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Youth Criminal Justice – Right to a Lawyer

When do I need a lawyer?

You should talk to a lawyer whenever you:

  • are charged with breaking the law,
  • are arrested or detained by the police,
  • have to appear before the Youth Justice Court, or
  • have questions about your rights.

Why do I need a lawyer?

You need a lawyer to speak for you and to make sure that your rights are protected. Your parents and others who give you advice may not know the legal consequences of accepting their advice.

What does the right to have a lawyer mean?

It means that if you are charged with a criminal offence, you have the right to speak to and get advice from a lawyer. You also have the right to speak to a lawyer if you are offered an extrajudicial sanction. See the section on EJM & EJS.

Must I be told about this right to have a lawyer?

Yes. When you are arrested the police must tell you that you have a right to have a lawyer and must give you a chance to contact one. If you do not have a lawyer at any hearing, trial, or review, the judge must tell you of this right and must give you the chance to get a lawyer.

How do I find a lawyer? 

  • If your region has Legal Aid, your local Legal Aid office may have a list of lawyers who work with young people and criminal law. If so, they will provide you with a list.
  • Look in the yellow pages under “Lawyers”,
  • Call your local community legal clinic (look under “Legal Aid” in your telephone book), or
  • Call your provincial or territorial law society to see whether they have a service that will refer you to a lawyer.

How do I pay for a lawyer? 

  • If you have a job, you may be able to afford one yourself.
  • Your parent(s) may pay one for you.
  • If you cannot afford a lawyer or your parent(s) cannot afford or refuse to pay for a lawyer, or there is another reason you don’t want your parents to be involved in hiring your lawyer, you can apply to Legal Aid.
  • If you are in court without a lawyer, and you cannot get Legal Aid or your province or territory doesn’t have a legal aid program, you can ask the judge to order that a lawyer be obtained for you.

Legal Aid

If you can’t afford a lawyer, you can apply for a Legal Aid certificate before your court date by calling Legal Aid Ontario: 416-979-1446. You can also make an application at the Legal Aid office at any of the youth courts in Toronto. If you are outside of Toronto, contact Legal Aid by calling 1-800-668-8258. When you make an application for Legal Aid you will be asked to produce information about your and/or your parents’ financial situation, to show that you qualify. Bring all of the following that apply to you and/or your parents:

  • up-to-date bankbook showing the last few months of activity; investment statements; 3 most recent pay stubs; proof of receipt of EI, ODSP or Worker’s Compensation; proof of monthly debt payments or proof of trusteeship if bankrupt; income tax return; and support payments.

If you don’t have the above information or don’t live with your parents, you can bring a letter from staff at a shelter, drop-in centre or other agency, stating that you have little or no money. If you are denied Legal Aid and want a lawyer, talk to the Duty Counsel lawyer. This is especially important if you want to plead not guilty. One reason you may be denied is that Legal Aid believes there is no chance of you receiving a jail sentence if found guilty. Duty counsel might be able to ask the judge to order Legal Aid to provide you with a certificate. To do this you must have a rejection letter from Legal Aid. If duty counsel does not help you, you can ask for an order for Legal Aid by yourself.

When will the judge order that a lawyer be appointed for me?

If you applied for Legal Aid and were turned down, you can and should ask the judge to make sure that a lawyer is appointed for you. This right to a lawyer is guaranteed under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. However, if you are 20 or older at the time you go for your first appearance for a Youth Justice Court charge, you do not have this right.Note: the province or territory can try to get back the money that is spent for your court-ordered lawyer from you or your parent(s). This does not mean that they will do this, only that they can.

Does this mean I can choose my own lawyer? 

If you have a lawyer in mind, he or she can ask the judge to order his or her fees paid. Otherwise, someone who works for the province or territory will appoint a lawyer to you.

Community legal clinics and special programs 

Some provinces and territories have other legal services available for people with low incomes. Often, universities with law schools have programs that provide legal services for free or for a small fee. Here are some examples: Ontario has a large number of community legal clinics that provide legal services to people with low incomes. Justice for Children and Youth (416-920-1633 or toll-free: 1-866-999-5329) helps young people under the age of 18 with various legal matters, including charges under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. In Manitoba, law students at the University Law Centre (University of Manitoba) will represent people with minor criminal charges.In Alberta, a program is offered on the Siksika Reserve which provides criminal legal services.

Duty Counsel 

Some provinces and territories have duty counsel. Duty Counsel are Legal Aid lawyers who are in the courthouse building for the day to help you. If you do not have your own lawyer, duty counsel can give you some limited advice and speak for you in court. They usually will not represent you at a trial.

What about using a responsible adult to speak for me in court?

You are allowed to do this but it is not a good idea.While this adult is concerned about you, he or she may not be familiar with the criminal law (especially the Youth Criminal Justice Act), the rules of the court or the consequences of not providing the appropriate information to the court. An adult who is not a lawyer who does criminal work for young people may not know what programs are available to help you obtain extrajudicial measures or to avoid custody.

How do I decide whether or not to hire a particular lawyer?

Ask them the following questions:

  • Are you familiar with the Youth Criminal Justice Act, criminal and drug laws, and young people’s rights?
  • Are you familiar with the services and programs in the community available to young people?
  • Will you listen to what I want and follow my instructions rather than those of my parent(s), social worker, or youth worker?
  • Will you explain to me why you may give recommendations about what I should do?
  • Will you do what I want rather than what you think is best for me if we do not agree about how to handle my case?
  • Will you keep everything I tell you private unless you check with me first? This includes talking to my parent(s).
  • If I do not have any money, will you help me get Legal Aid?
  • What services will you provide? Getting bail? Helping me find a place in a program?
  • Will you show up for my court date?

If the lawyer answers “yes” to most of these questions, they will probably be a good lawyer for you.

How should my lawyer treat me? 

Your lawyer should listen to your problem and understand what you want. He or she should give you advice and then do what you want (within certain limits) rather than what other people think might be best for you. The information that you give your lawyer is private. Your lawyer cannot tell anyone, including your parents or guardian, social worker, or the police, what you say unless you give your lawyer permission to do so. However, if you tell your lawyer that you are going to harm someone, they may have to report this to the police. If you feel that your lawyer is not doing a good job representing you, you can ask that another lawyer take your case.  If your lawyer is paid by Legal Aid, you should find our whether Legal Aid will still pay if you change lawyers.

Once I hire a lawyer, what should the lawyer do for me? 

Your lawyer should:

  • Explain what your charges and options are, and give you advice on how to proceed with your case.
  • Tell you how likely it is that you’ll be found guilty and what your sentence might be,
  • Make sure that the rules of the court are followed so that you get a fair trial,
  • Make sure that your version of what happened is presented in court
  • If you are found guilty, recommend to the judge a plan that meets your needs (if you agree). It is even better if you ask your lawyer to get you involved in a program that meets your needs,
  • Be with you every time you go to court (if your lawyer cannot go to court on a particular day, he or she should send someone else to be there in his or her place, or your lawyer should speak to duty counsel for you in advance, or your lawyer should give you a letter to take to court), and
  • Present your defence to the court.

Why do I need a lawyer to present my story? 

The police officer’s story of what happened will be told to the judge by a professional, either a lawyer or an experienced police officer. Because of this, you also need a trained person who can tell your side of what happened to the court. This must be done in a logical way and follow the rules of the court. You also need someone who can carefully question the police and police witnesses.

What can I do if my lawyer has done damage to me or my case by not acting properly?

Ask you provincial or territorial law society about what can be done. You may want to appeal your case. See section on Appeals.

Remember: Your appearance in court may have serious consequences for you. You need a trained lawyer to advise you and to present your case in court.

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