The Youth Justice Court is a specialized Court under the jurisdiction of the Provincial Court of Nova Scotia. Young people accused of criminal offences who are 12 to 17 years of age appear in this Court and are dealt with under the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA). The provisions of the YCJA are different from those under which other Courts operate when they deal with accused adults (18 years or older).
The Youth Criminal Justice Act
The YCJA is based on the premise that young people who come into conflict with the law have a greater chance at rehabilitation and so should be given every opportunity, within limits, to turn their lives around.
The most pronounced differences between how young accused and adult accused are dealt with by the Courts can be found in the Preamble and Declaration of Principle of the YCJA:
- Society has a responsibility to address the developmental challenges and needs of young persons.
- Young persons have special guarantees of their rights and freedoms, including those set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
- The youth justice system should reserve its most serious interventions for the most serious crimes and reduce the over-reliance on incarceration.
In addition to the Preamble and the Declaration of Principle, the YCJA includes other more specific principles to guide decision-making at key points in the youth justice process, as outlined below.
Another significant difference in how young people are dealt with by the Courts is the mandatory ban on the publication of any information that might enable the public to identify a young accused. The rationale for this rule is that publicity will detrimentally affect the young person and impede their rehabilitation. However, a publication ban is not mandatory under certain limited circumstances.
A publication ban may not be imposed if:
- If a Youth Justice Court judge is satisfied on application that the young person is a danger to others and publication of the name is necessary to assist in apprehending the young person.
- If a youth sentence is imposed for a violent offence if the young person poses a significant risk of committing another violent offence and publishing their identity is necessary to protect the public.
- If the Court has imposed an adult sentence.
Experience in Canada and other countries shows that measures other than going to court can provide effective responses to less serious youth crime. These extrajudicial measures provide meaningful consequences, such as requiring the young person to repair the harm done to the victim. Increasing the use of non-court responses also enables the courts to focus its resources on more serious cases.
The purpose of youth sentences is to hold young persons accountable through just sanctions that ensure meaningful consequences for them and promote their rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
Specific sentencing principles emphasize that a youth sentence must:
- not be more severe than what an adult would receive for the same offence.
- be similar to youth sentences in similar cases.
- be proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the young person.
- within the limits of a proportionate response, (a) be the least restrictive alternative; (b) be the sentencing option that is most likely to rehabilitate and reintegrate the young person; and (c) promote in the young person a sense of responsibility and an acknowledgement of the harm done by the offence.
Restrictions on Custody
Custody sentences are reserved primarily for violent offenders and serious repeat offenders. The YCJA provides that a young person cannot be sentenced to custody unless:
- the young person has committed a violent offence.
- the young person has failed to comply with non-custodial sentences.
- the young person has committed a serious indictable offence and has a history that indicates a pattern of findings of guilt.
- in exceptional cases where the young person has committed an indictable offence and the aggravating circumstances of the offence are such that a sentence other than custody would be inconsistent with the purpose and principles of sentencing.
In addition to replacing the custody order with a custody and supervision order, the YCJA has a number of sentencing options that allow youth court Judges to deal with the full range of youth crime:
Reprimand: A reprimand is essentially a stern lecture or warning from the judge in minor cases in which the experience of being apprehended, taken through the court process and reprimanded appears to be sufficient to hold the young person accountable for the offence.
Intensive Support and Supervision Order: This sentencing option provides closer monitoring and more support than a probation order to assist the young person in changing his or her behaviour.
Attendance Order: This order requires the young person to attend a program at specified times and on conditions set by the Judge. It can be crafted to address the particular circumstances of the young person.
Deferred Custody and Supervision Order: This sentencing option allows a young person who would otherwise be sentenced to custody, to serve the sentence in the community under conditions. If the conditions are violated, the young person can be sent to custody. This order is not available to the court for offences in which a young person caused or attempted to cause serious bodily harm.
Intensive Rehabilitative Custody and Supervision Order: This order is a special sentence for serious violent offenders. The Court can make this order if:
- the young person has committed an indictable offence for which an adult would be liable to imprisonment for a term of more than two years and has a history that indicates a pattern of either extrajudicial sanctions or of findings of guilt or of both.
- the young person is suffering from a mental or psychological disorder or an emotional disturbance.
- an individualized treatment plan has been developed for the young person.
- an appropriate program is available and the young person is suitable for admission.
The federal government provides special funding for the provinces and territories to ensure that this intensive rehabilitative sentencing option is available throughout the country.
Custody and Supervision
The YCJA includes provisions to assist the young person's reintegration into the community. The focus of every custody sentence must be on reintegration and on measures aimed at assisting the young person not to reoffend.
Custody and Supervision in the Community: Every period of custody is followed by a period of supervision and support in the community as part of the young person's sentence. This includes custody and supervision orders, intensive rehabilitative custody, and supervision orders and youth sentences for murder.
Reintegration Plans and Reintegration Leaves: When a young person goes into custody, a youth worker works with the young person to plan for their reintegration into the community. The reintegration plan identifies programs and activities aimed at maximizing the young person's chances for successful reintegration into the community. When the young person is serving the community supervision portion of their sentence, the youth worker supervises the young person and provides support and assistance in order to help the young person respect conditions and implement the reintegration plan.
Separation from Adults: A young person who is serving a youth custody sentence is to be held separate and apart from adults. When a young person serving a youth sentence reaches the age of 18, they may be moved to an adult correctional facility. When a young person in a youth facility reaches the age of 20, they should be transferred to an adult facility to serve the remainder of the sentence. If a young person is placed in an adult facility, the privacy provisions and publication bans associated with a youth sentence continue to apply.
The information on this page is based on information from Justice Canada. For more information on the Youth Criminal Justice Act, go to the