THE YOUTH JUSTICE PROCESS UNDER THE YOA


The Young Offenders Act created a uniform system of justice for Canadian youths which resembled the adult system in formality, but remained distinct from the adult system, as under the JDA. Across the country, minimum and maximum ages to which the legislation applied became 12 and 17 years, respectively. Adolescents could no longer be charged with ?delinquency;’ if a youth were to be charged with an offence, it must be a violation of criminal law (Hylton, 1994). Youth court judges, under the YOA, have much more legal training than their predecessors. This, combined with the increased legal representation of young offenders, has led to an adversarial courtroom setting much like that seen in adult court where the ?adversaries’ are the Crown and the Defence counsel and the judge is an objective intermediary. In contrast to adult court, however, the proceedings always follow summary conviction procedure to ensure that young people spend as little time in the formal process as possible. There is no preliminary hearing in youth court and a youth rarely spends more than a few months in custody prior to trial.

The Young Offenders Act has provisions for the transfer of an adolescent to the ordinary court, detailed in section 16. A transfer is automatic in instances where the offender was sixteen or seventeen years of age at the time of the offence and is charged with a serious indictable crime such as homicide, manslaughter, or aggravated sexual assault. A transfer is also possible if an accused was over fourteen when he committed a serious offence and the court decides that it is the best interest of both the youth and the community to try the young person as an adult. A transfer hearing must take place prior to the trial and the adjudication of a youth. Either the prosecution or defence can apply for a transfer, and the onus falls on the applicant to show the court that a transfer would be appropriate.

The YOA also provides that courtroom proceedings can be avoided through the implementation of alternative measures programs which may be used to deal with youths charged with minor, non- violent offences who have no prior convictions. The legal framework for the use of alternative measures is laid out in section 4 of the YOA, which states that the measures must be “part of a program of alternative measures authorized by the Attorney General or his delegate” and are appropriate given the circumstances of the young offender and the interests of society. Further, the young person must accept responsibility for the criminal act for which he has been charged and must freely consent to participate. The youth court may also refrain from imposing any measures at all if, as stated in the Declaration of Principle, doing so would not be at odds with the protection of society


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