Juvenile Court: An Overview


The Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) applies to young people who are 12-17 years old. The law says a person is an adult at age 18. At age 18, the YCJA does not apply. Offenders are referred to as “young persons”. The overall purpose of the YCJA is to make the public feel safe. Young people must be accountable for their actions, which means that they must face the consequences for their wrong-doings. The consequence for the crime must be proportionate to the seriousness of the crime. That means that more serious crimes should have more serious consequences.

Did You Know?

  • Most youth who commit crimes are between the ages of 14 and 17.
  • If youth are younger than 12 years old, they are not dealt with under the YCJA. The government’s Ministry of Children and Family Development deals with those youth.
  • Parents and guardians are told if their child commits a crime. They are asked to come to court to prove the age of their child.

Why do we have the YCJA?

The YCJA treats youth differently from adults because of their level of dependency, maturity and development. There are three principles of the YCJA that promote the long term protection of the public.

  1. Prevent crime by addressing the circumstances underlying a young person’s behaviour
  2. Rehabilitate and reintegrate young people who commit offences into society
  3. Ensure that a young person is subject to meaningful consequences for his or her offence

What Does the YCJA Do?

It establishes a fair and effective youth justice system. Serious and repeat offenders will be dealt with more severely. There are many choices or options in sentencing. Victims, parents and the community are encouraged to become involved in the process whether it is in court or not.

What are “Meaningful Consequences”?

 Meaningful consequences are things done to help youth understand the implications of their actions and to fix the harm done to others. Measures to deal with youth crime should:

  • Address the crime
  • Mean something to the offender
  • Reinforce respect for Canadian values
  • Help fix the harm done to victims and the community
  • Respect gender, ethnic, cultural, and language differences
  • Involve the family, the community, and other groups
  • Respond to the needs and lives of Aboriginal youth and youth with special requirements

Non-Violent Crime and First Time Offenders

Most youth who commit crimes are either non-violent or first time offenders. Non-violent and first time offenders will have a range of options other than going to court such as police warnings or police or Crown diversion programs. Extrajudicial Measures and Extrajudicial Sanctions may place young people who offend into programs that will help address their problems and they may also provide an opportunity for restitution to the community. If they go to court sentences could include doing something for the victim to make up for the crime or doing some form of community service.

Violent and Repeat Offenders

Serious violent crimes occur when someone gets hurt as a result of a crime or if there is a serious risk of someone being hurt. For example, a robbery in which no one was injured could be considered “violent” if a gun, or even a replica of a gun, was used as a threat. A youth is a “repeat offender” if s/he has committed a crime before.

An adult sentence can be given to a youth 14-17 years old if that person has been convicted of one of four serious violent offences or if the youth has a pattern of convictions for violent offences, or if the offence is one for which an adult could receive more than two years in jail. This means that when a youth (14, 15, 16 or older) commits attempted murder, murder, manslaughter, aggravated sexual assault or a third serious violent offence an adult sentence shall be imposed if the youth is found guilty.

The trial is always held in youth court. A province may fix an age greater than 14 years but not more than 16 years for the purpose of the application of the provisions relating to these presumptive offences. The YCJA can provide for a sentence that includes special supervision if the youth has committed one of the more serious crimes. This special supervision is called “intensive rehabilitative custody.” The maximum youth sentence is ten years for first-degree murder, six years served in custody and four years under supervision.

The YCJA states that the media may publish the name of a youth who has been convicted of a serious violent crime and has received an adult sentence. If the youth does get an adult sentence for a serious violent crime, then the records are treated in the same way as if the youth were an adult.