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Butler was the son of Joshua Butler and Esther, née Lampel.
Butler attended Ilford County High School before reading Law at London School of Economics, graduating with an LLB in 1952. Following this, he was awarded a BCL from Magdalen College, Oxford in 1954.
Butler was called to the bar in the Middle Temple, 1955. His career was interrupted by National Service; he was a 2nd lieutenant in the Royal Army Service Corps, 1956-57. He became a QC in 1975. He was a Recorder of the Crown Court, 1977–82, a Circuit Judge, 1982–97, and senior judge at Southwark Crown Court, 1984-97.
After his retirement, he was invited to conduct inquiries and produce reports into:
- the English Rugby Football Union, 1997
- Central Casework at the Crown Prosecution Service, 1999
- prosecution of Regina v Doran and others, 2000
- Treasury Counsel instructed by the Crown Prosecution Service, 2000
- The 1981 New Cross fire that killed 13 black youngsters, 2004
In August 2005, he made controversial remarks that human rights laws stood in the way of attempts to crack down on terrorists, because after the terrorist attacks on London in July, Britain was no longer in a "normal" state where human rights legislation was always beneficial.
He was a member of the Marylebone Cricket Club.
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