In the criminal justice system, adults and young people are treated very differently. It is recognized that young people have different developmental challenges and needs in order to guide them into adulthood. It is expected that parents and communities will assist in taking reasonable steps to aid young people in this development. As such, the Youth Criminal Justice Act incorporates into the investigation, prosecution and trial of a young person procedures that work to recognize and protect these differences and needs.
While there are numerous procedural differences as between young people and adults, there are several which are paramount in order to ensure that the principles set out in the Act are enforced
When a person is arrested or detained, under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, everyone has the right to consult with counsel and receive legal advice prior to making any decision as to whether or not to provide a statement or any other information to the police. Under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, there is an additional level of protection provided to young persons. No statement, either oral or written, can be admitted into evidence unless the statement was voluntary, the young person is under no obligation to make the statement and that prior to making the decision to provide a statement, they have the right to consult with a parent and counsel, and have the reasonable ability to have their parent present with them when they make the statement, if they so desire. This requirement exists over and above the Charter protections that are in place for everyone, and an attack on the admissibility of a statement can be made under both areas. If a young person waives his rights under the YCJA, the waiver must be in writing, signed and video or audio recorded.
The maximum sentences available to the Crown for a young person are significantly lower than the same offences for an adult. Further, where there is a custodial sentence, young persons are generally not incarcerated with adults. Rather, there are youth detention centres which operate to assist the young person with rehabilitation and reintegration into the community.
It is one of the guiding principles of the YCJA that in dealing with young offenders, the emphasis should be on rehabilitation and reintegration of the young person into society. The incarceration of a young person is seen as a last resort which should be avoided if any other sentence would be sufficient to meet the principles set out under the Act. When adults are sentenced, it is generally accepted that the primary aims of sentencing is deterrence (both specific and general) and denunciation. As a result, there are a large number of available sentences for young persons which are not available for adults. Many of these sentences are set up to avoid the necessity of incarceration and work towards the rehabilitation of the young person.