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Youthful advice from the bench

Court advisory panel gives teens chance to advise judges

Nathan VanderKlippe
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Dec 17/01) - Walk into the Nunavut Court of Justice on a young offenders day and you may find a rather youthful-looking jury -- seven or eight teenaged faces listening to lawyers plead their cases.

It's not a real a jury. Juries have legal powers, the ability to declare a person innocent or guilty of specific charges.

The members of this panel don't have that power. Instead, they are part of the youth court advisory panel, an initiative that has had some success in the NWT and is now in Nunavut for the first time.

About 25 youths signed up for the program, which gives young people exposure to the courts and judges another perspective on sentencing.

"It's youth giving their ideas on what's happening to other youth," said Alyne Mochan, a University of Victoria law student working for Justice Beverly Browne.

The youth panel is used in cases where the defendant has pleaded guilty to a more minor case -- not in sexual assaults or serious offenses. Since October, the panel has convened twice.

Similar panels operate in Forth Smith, Hay River and Inuvik.

They talk amongst themselves and figure out what they will recommend, said Mochan. Then they choose a spokesperson to speak to the judge and deliver that recommendation in open court.

The judge does the sentencing.

"It introduces the youth in the community to the court process and the sorts of offences we're dealing with in town," said city defence lawyer John Thompson, who added that the panel does not particularly benefit him.

"The recommendations in the matter I was involved with were basically no different than what the lawyers had recommended," he said.

"I think it's a fairly good idea," Thompson said. "But time will tell how much participation it will get."