Judge steps down with call for legal review

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The Independent Online
Judge Gerald Butler QC (right), one of Britain's most colourful and outspoken judges, retired yesterday with a call for a wide ranging overhaul of the legal system.

The senior judge at Southwark Crown Court in London for the past 13 years, he asked for an inquiry into how juries make decisions and questioned whether judges needed to sum up cases at the end of a trial.

Judge Butler, 66, has overseen a series of high profile cases, including those involving Liz Hurley, after she was mugged by a girl gang; pop star Sting, who memorably told how he "failed to notice" when his accountant siphoned off pounds 690,000 from his current account as part of a multi-million pound fraud; TV comic Craig Charles, who was cleared of rape; and footballer Dennis Wise, who successfully appealed against a conviction for attacking a London cab driver.

He is also the only judge in living memory to order the arrest of a barrister in open court following a heated clash of views.

Addressing a gathering of barristers and judges at a formal farewell ceremony in his honour, he asked: "Why has there never been some inquiry and report as to what actually goes on in the jury room? If there were, we would discover if our directions of law are understood and followed.

"I for my part believe there would be quite a few shocks if there were that inquiry."

He then questioned the need for judges to sum up at the end of cases, saying: "It has always seemed to me that is wholly unnecessary. All the jury need to be given are directions as to the law."

Judge Butler, who lists his interests in Who's Who as rugby, opera, Japanese pottery and walking, was called to the Bar in 1955 and moved on to the Bench in 1977 as a crown court Recorder. Five years later he was appointed a circuit judge, and in 1984 became senior judge at Southwark.

Lord Justice Auld, senior presiding judge in England and Wales, praised Judge Butler's "intellectual authority and robust common sense".