The Honourable David Watt, K.C.
The Honourable David Watt, K.C. is widely recognized as one of Canada’s pre-eminent criminal law authorities. He distinguished himself as a leader of the bar and as a trial and appellate judge during his illustrious 50-year career.
In his role as Jurist in Residence, David Watt provides legal and strategic advice on all aspects of a criminal case, from pre-charge to the final appeal. He is an invaluable resource to the firm given his depth of experience as a judge and lawyer in criminal law, evidence and procedure. David’s expertise extends to administrative law, having heard civil and administrative law matters as a judge of the Divisional Court and Court of Appeal for Ontario.
David received his B.A. (French and Criminology) from the University of Waterloo in 1967. He received his LL.B. from Queen’s University Law School in 1970, graduating as the silver medallist. Upon his call to the bar in 1972, David joined the Criminal Appeals and Special Prosecutions Branch of the Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario. During his 13 years in the Ministry, he served two years as Deputy Director, followed by eight years as Senior Crown Counsel (Criminal Law). David argued approximately 60 appeals in the Supreme Court of Canada and 1500 appeals in the Court of Appeal for Ontario. In addition, he conducted special prosecutions of homicide, commercial fraud, and electronic surveillance cases at the trial level. In 1982, David received the designation of Queen’s Counsel.
In 1985, David was appointed a judge of the Supreme Court of Ontario (High Court of Justice). During his time as a trial judge, David presided over countless murder trials, including many of the most prominent and challenging cases. For many years, he was the leader of the Toronto Homicide and Long Trials Team, which hears all homicide and other complex criminal cases in Toronto. In that role, he fulfilled extensive case management duties, including presiding over innumerable pre-trial conferences and resolution discussions in homicide and other complex criminal cases.
Drawing on his extensive experience presiding over criminal jury trials, David Watt was the visionary and engineer of model criminal jury instructions in Canada. The first version, Ontario Specimen Jury Instructions, was published in 2002. That publication was followed by Watt’s Manual of Criminal Jury Instructions. The first and second editions were published in 2005 and 2015 respectively, and a third edition will be published in 2023. David’s model jury instructions are a reliable and indispensable prototype that have been extensively relied upon by trial judges and criminal lawyers across Canada. They have been repeatedly endorsed by the Supreme Court of Canada and appellate courts across the country, as providing a clear, consistent, and superior standard of jury instructions in criminal cases.
While a trial judge, David also sat as a judge of the Divisional Court, which exercises an intermediate appellate and judicial review function in civil and administrative law matters. In addition, he was a Deputy Judge of Supreme Court of Yukon and a Judge of the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada.
After serving 22 years as a trial judge, David Watt was appointed to the Court of Appeal for Ontario in 2007. He served as a member of that Court for over 14 years, hearing approximately 1500 appeals and composing approximately 350 judgments in criminal cases. David retired from the Court on November 2, 2021, the day he reached the mandatory age of retirement for judges in Canada.
David Watt is a prolific writer with several new writing projects underway. For decades, his publications have been widely acquired and relied upon by judges and lawyers. In addition, in 2023, the third edition of Watt’s Manual of Criminal Jury Instructions and the second edition of Helping Jurors Understand will be published. He maintains his longstanding annual publications, Watt’s Manual of Criminal Evidence (beginning in 1998) and Tremeear’s Annotated Criminal Code (beginning in 1990). Since 2006, David has produced Watt’s Criminal Law and Evidence Newsletter, which is published electronically bi-monthly and provides concise synopses of recent cases of importance from appellate courts across Canada on criminal law and evidence issues. Past publications include: Criminal Law Precedents (2nd ed.) (2007: Carswell), The New Offences Against the Person (1984: Butterworths), Law of Electronic Surveillance in Canada (1980: Carswell), Criminal Law Precedents (1978: Carswell).
David Watt is also a teacher. He has lectured extensively at continuing legal education programs for judges and lawyers in every province and territory in Canada. Significantly, he devoted more than 40 years to the National Criminal Law Program, including having served serving as Chair and Honourary Chair of this distinguished program for over 30 years. Additionally, he was a committed adjunct professor teaching courses in criminal law and evidence at Queen’s University, the University of Western Ontario, Osgoode Hall Law School, the University of Toronto and Dalhousie University. He looks forward to returning to the classroom as an adjunct professor.
Throughout his career, David has devoted his time and expertise to many organizations. These include acting as Associate Director of the National Judicial Institute, Alternate Chair of the Ontario Review Board, Chair and author of the Report of Special Committee of Chief Justice of Canada (for the Canadian Judicial Council) on White Paper on Proposed General Part of Criminal Code, Member of the Canadian Bar Association Task Force on Recodification of Criminal Code (General Part), Consultant for the Law Reform Commission of Canada on electronic surveillance and criminal procedure, and Member of the Federal/Provincial Task Force on Uniform Rules of Evidence.
Over the course of his career, David has received a variety of awards and designations. These include the 2022 G. Arthur Martin Criminal Justice Medal awarded by the Criminal Lawyers’ Association for his extensive contribution to criminal justice in Canada. In addition, in 2005 he received an honorary LL.D. from the Law Society of Upper Canada (now known as Law Society of Ontario). In 1998, he was the recipient of the American Bar Association–American Law Institute’s Harrison Tweed Award for Excellence in Continuing Legal Education.
David has a passion for hockey. In his youth, he played junior hockey in his hometown of Owen Sound with the Owen Sound Greys. In the decades to follow, David remained devoted to the sport, playing recreationally and assuming executive positions of the governing bodies for amateur hockey. From 1991 to 1997, he served as the President and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Ontario Hockey Federation. He was also a Director of the Canadian Hockey Association during that period. He was a Director of the Greater Toronto Hockey League and the Ontario Hockey Federation from 2002 to 2003. David was the Vice President of the Greater Toronto Hockey League from 2010 to 2011.