How are adult court and youth court different?

Both adult criminal courts and youth criminal courts are governed by the Criminal Code and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These are federal laws that apply to all of Canada.

But there is also an extra law for youth criminal courts called the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YJCA). The YCJA is a federal law that applies to youth from age 12 to 17. It also applies to people older than 17 if they are charged for something they did before they turned 18.

The YCJA gives young people extra protections, access to special services, and additional rights that adults do not get.

YCJA principles

The YCJA has many principles that explain why young people get these extra protections, services, and rights. Some of the important principles are:

  • Young people are more vulnerable than adults, so they need more protection.
  • Young people are not fully mature yet, so they must be held responsible in different ways than adults.
  • Young people's privacy deserves more protection than adults' privacy.
  • Rehabilitation is very important for young people so that they can grow into positive members of society.
  • Parents should be involved in helping their children.
  • Jail is a last resort for young people. Judges must always think of other options first.

Young people are also protected by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, also called “the Convention”. The rights in the Convention help youth courts to better understand the YCJA.

Youth records

A youth record is not a criminal record. In youth criminal court you do not get and you don't get a “criminal record” like in adult court. Only adults get criminal convictions or criminal records. But in youth court, you can be “found guilty” and get a “youth court record”. The words are different on purpose.

Even if you're found guilty as a young person, you won't get a criminal conviction or a criminal record. Instead, you will have a finding of guilt and get a youth record.Your youth records are private and confidential. Only specific people in specific situations are allowed to access your youth records.

Youth records have specials rules about how long they remain open, called access periods, and who can see them. Your youth record must be destroyed or erased after a certain amount of time. But they aren't destroyed or erased just because you turn 18.

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