Youth in Trouble with the Law
The first thing a parent should do if their child is charged with a criminal offence, is to get legal advice. Your child has a right to legal counsel if they are arrested, charged or detained. The Youth Criminal Justice Act confirms that a youth has a right to legal representation at any stage of the proceedings against him or her.
Your child should speak with duty counsel by telephone if detained at the police station. He or she can speak with duty counsel on a first appearance at court. After that, your child should have his or her own lawyer.
Your child should have a lawyer regardless of whether you think he or she is guilty, and regardless of how serious you think the offence might be. You should make sure to get the help of a criminal defence lawyer as soon as possible. If you cannot afford to pay for a lawyer, the government will pay for a lawyer’s service through legal aid or through a judge’s order.
When you are told that your child is at a police station you should be advised by the officer that you should go there to be with your child. Your child has a right to consult a lawyer, and it is required that a parent or other adult of the child’s choice be with him or her when being questioned by the police. If you are present, do not encourage them to “confess” to the police. It is never in your child’s best interest to do so.
Remember that, although you are the parent, you are not the person best qualified to guide your child through the criminal justice system. Do not attempt to “fix the problem” yourself. There can be very serious consequences for your child as a result of well-meaning but mistaken actions made by you as parents. Never encourage your child to waive his right to speak with a lawyer before being questioned by the police.
A youth record does not automatically disappear when the young person turns 18. There are many factors which determine whether the record will be closed or remain open as if it were an adult record. This is why it is very important not to assume that any offence is minor and that it will not affect your child’s future. Having a youth record can affect your child’s ability to apply to college or university, to get certain types of jobs, and to travel to the U.S. and other countries.
Therefore, give your child support and encouragement through the process, keep informed about what is happening to your child, speak with his or her lawyer to find out if there is anything you can do at home that might help the outcome, and do not make legal decisions on behalf of your child.