Youth Justice Court Trials

The Dial-A-Law library is prepared by lawyers and gives practical information on many areas of law in British Columbia. Script 226 gives information only, not legal advice. If you have a legal problem or need legal advice, you should speak to a lawyer. For the name of a lawyer to consult, call the Lawyer Referral Service at 604.687.3221 in the lower mainland or 1.800.663.1919 elsewhere in British Columbia.

Trials in Youth Justice Court
A Youth Justice Court trial is open to the public unless the judge decides that it should be private. Then the judge can order that only certain people can be in the court. They would usually be you, your parents, your lawyer, the prosecutor (or Crown counsel), and the youth worker.

The identity of a young person in youth justice court is normally protected. Information that identifies them can be published only in limited cases. This is called a publication ban. Judges can lift a publication ban if a youth receives a youth sentence for a violent offence or if a youth is sentenced as an adult. The judge considers whether the youth may commit another violent offence and whether lifting the publication ban will protect the public.

You have the right to a lawyer in Youth Justice Court. Anytime you are in court without a lawyer, you can tell the judge that you want a lawyer and the judge will make sure that you get one. If you cannot afford a lawyer, the judge will refer you to Legal Aid. It is best to speak with a lawyer before you go to court the first time. The numbers to call are at the end of this script.

If you are charged with a crime, the court considers you innocent until the prosecutor proves you guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt.

Before the trial
Young people who are charged with serious offences, or who have a history of charges or convictions, may be held in custody before the trial. A serious offence is any indictable offence with a maximum punishment of imprisonment for 5 years or more for an adult. It includes violent offences, some property offences (for example, theft over $5,000, auto theft), and offences that could endanger the life or safety of another person by creating substantial likelihood for causing bodily harm (for example, dangerous driving, public mischief, unauthorized possession of a firearm, murder).

Penalties if you’re guilty
The penalty you get is called a sentence. If a judge finds you guilty, the judge may ask a youth court worker to prepare a pre-sentence report. The report will tell the judge all about you, including whether you've been in trouble before.

Here are some of the sentences a judge can give, alone or in combination:

  • an absolute discharge – the judge finds you guilty but gives you another chance; your record will be destroyed after one year from the date you were found guilty
  • a fine of up to $1,000
  • an order to:
    • pay the victim of your crime compensation for loss (called restitution)
    • do up to 240 hours of community service
    • report to a probation officer regularly for up to 2 years
    • put you in custody at a Youth Custody Facility

For most offences, the maximum time in custody is 16 months in a facility, plus 8 months of supervision after release from the facility. A court can consider a youth’s pattern of criminal activity—not just whether they are guilty in the case—in deciding whether to put a youth in custody.

A judge can give you an adult sentence
Under the Youth Criminal Justice Act (the Act), a prosecutor can ask the court for an adult sentence if the offence has a sentence of more than 2 years for adults, and it was committed after the young person turned 14.

The Act says a prosecutor must consider if it’s appropriate to ask for an adult sentence if the offense was a serious, violent offence (including murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, and aggravated sexual assault) and it was committed after the young person turned 14. The prosecutor must tell the court if they are not seeking an adult sentence in these cases. Each province and territory can set the age, 14 to 16 years, when these parts of the Act apply to the prosecutor.

A judge can give you the same sentence an adult would get if you are at least 14 years old and charged with a serious offence. Young people between 14 and 17 can be in custody for life and not eligible for parole for up to 7 years for second-degree murder and 10 years for first-degree murder. But no young person will serve their sentence in an adult prison or penitentiary—even if they receive an adult sentence.  When the person turns 18, they may be moved to an adult facility.

Criminal and other records
Both the police and Youth Justice Court keep records of convictions. These are usually kept private and destroyed after a certain time. Until then, the judge can look at them when sentencing a young person. Sometimes, for the safety of others, the law allows the records to be given to certain people, like a victim, police officer, and director of a corrections institution. You should ask a lawyer about how the rules on Youth Justice Court records apply to your situation and when your records will be destroyed.

The Act requires police to keep records of extrajudicial measures so they can identify patterns of criminal activity. Extrajudicial measures include warnings, cautions, and referrals to community agencies.

Alternatives to trial
The Youth Criminal Justice Act controls how criminal law applies to young people accused of breaking a federal law. The Act deals only with young people who are at least 12 years old and not yet 18. For some types of offences, the Act has a procedure called “extrajudicial measures” or “diversion” because offenders are diverted (or taken) out of the youth criminal justice system. Instead of going to court where a judge decides if you are guilty, you can take responsibility for your actions and avoid a trial.

Your lawyer can apply to the prosecutor for you to take part in a diversion program. Usually, you must admit in writing that you are guilty and then pay for your crime by doing community service and apologizing to the victim. Often, you apologize by writing a letter to the victim. The program can include counseling and restorative justice, where you meet with the victim.

Legal help
If you do not have a lawyer, you may be able to get one through Legal Aid (604.408.2172 and 1.866.577.2525). You can also find a lawyer through the Lawyer Referral Service (604.687.3221 and 1.800.663.1919).

If you are in police custody, you can call a 24-hour emergency number for legal advice. In Vancouver and the lower mainland, call 1.866.458.5500. Elsewhere in BC, call 1.866.458.3300. Usually, a lawyer will answer your call right away. If you cannot get through at that number, call 1.250.882.9451 and leave a message. A lawyer will try to phone you back within 30 minutes.

For more information, check script 225, called “Young People and Criminal Law”.

[updated August 2017]

The above was last reviewed for accuracy by Yulina Wang and edited by John Blois.

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