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COURTS AND JUVENILES

In recognition of the vulnerability of youth and the challenges that they face in understanding and participating in the youth court process, the YCJA has special provisions to facilitate access to legal representation. In proceedings under the YCJA, if a youth wants to have legal assistance and is unable to afford a lawyer, Section 25 requires the judge to order that representation be provided; parents’ financial means are not to be taken into account when determining whether a youth is able to afford representation, though parents may choose to pay for counsel for their child. Lawyers for youth may provide assistance at the time of questioning by the police, at a pretrial bail hearing, at trial, and at a sentencing or review hearing. Youth in Canada have the right to legal representation, but there are continuing concerns about access to justice and the quality of legal representation for adolescents. Not infrequently there are delays in securing access to counsel, and some youths, especially those in detention, may plead guilty “to get things over” without having proper legal advice and representation (Bala 2015).

In each jurisdiction one court is designated as the “youth court.” In most provinces, judges who deal with youth cases also deal with less serious adult criminal cases, and in some provinces judges dealing with youth cases also have jurisdiction over child welfare matters. Youth court trials are almost always resolved by a judge sitting without a jury. Youths have the right to a jury trial only in a murder charge or if an adult sentence is being considered. The public and media may attend youth court and are only excluded under limited circumstances, but reporting of youth court proceedings cannot identify the youth, unless an adult sentence is imposed.

The impact of the YCJA on the caseload of the youth court is shown in Fig. 5.4. Trends in the per capita rate of young persons’ brought to court reflect trends in police charging. During the 11 years from 1991/1992 to 2002/2003, the rate of court cases declined on average by 2.5 % per year, to 3015 per 100,000. In 2003/2004, the first year of the YCJA, the rate dropped by 17 %> to 2505. During the following 10 years, it dropped by an average of 3.3 %> per year to 1668 per 100,000 in 2013/2014. The per capita rate of cases heard in youth court in 2013/2014 was only 40 % of the rate in 1991/1992. In practice, in many cases involving less serious charges, the prosecutor may decide, often after discussion

Trends in youth brought to court and found guilty, Canada, 1991/1992— 2013/2014. Note

Figure 5.4. Trends in youth brought to court and found guilty, Canada, 1991/1992— 2013/2014. Note: Prepared by the authors using data from CANSIM Table 252-0064 (Statistics Canada 2015b).

with youth and defence counsel, that the case should be diverted from court with charges dropped and a referral made for some type of extrajudicial measures. Largely as a result of increased use of diversion, cases in which youths were found guilty on at least one charge dropped by 21 % from 1946 in 1991-1992 to 1538 in 2003/2004 and by a further 39 %> to 942 per 100,000 in 2013/2014 and only 35 % of the rate in 1991/1992. If a case proceeds, most youths decide to plead guilty, sometimes in the context of a plea bargain arranged by their counsel with the Crown Prosecutor, and a relatively small portion of all youth court cases result in a trial.

 
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