Born: March 3, 1929; Died: April 22, 2011.

Sheriff Peter McNeill, who has died in Edinburgh aged 82, was a formidable personality and a popular and respected figure throughout the Scottish legal profession. He also published books on Scots law and history. As a sheriff, he was a patient and understanding listener in court – allowing lawyers and witnesses to express themselves without pressure. He was known for never disclosing any hint of his thoughts as the case proceeded.

Peter Grant Brass McNeill was born in Glasgow and educated at Hillhead High School and for a year, during the war when pupils were evacuated from the big cities, at Morrison’s Academy in Crieff. He read law at Glasgow University and was awarded a Carnegie Fellowship and subsequently a Faulds Fellowship and wrote his PhD on the Judicial Aspect of the Scots Privy Council. He was called to the Scottish Bar in 1956 and acted as honorary sheriff substitute of Lanarkshire from 1962 before returning as full sheriff for Lanarkshire. He became advocate depute in 1964.

In 1965 he became sheriff of Glasgow and Strathkelvin and from 1982 was made sheriff of Edinburgh and the Borders, a post he held until he retired in 1998. He was also involved in several public enquiries – most notably chairing the exhaustive review board into the Chinook helicopter accident in 1988 on the Mull of Kintyre.

He was a specialist in adoption law and wrote Adoption of Children in Scotland in 1982. Now in its fourth edition, Mr McNeill had the pleasure of co-editing last year’s edition with his daughter Morag Jack. His career was distinguished by his remarkable knowledge of the law and his equable demeanour in court, balancing courtesy with a firm authority.

His interest in Scotland’s legal history was seen when he republished the original 18th-century legal document, Balfour’s Practicks. It had been published in 1754 by Sir James Balfour of Pittendreich and in his introduction to the Stair Society’s publication in 1963 Mr McNeill wrote that Balfour ranks “amongst the dodgier characters of Scottish legal history but it is evident that he was a pretty good lawyer.” It was a scholarly undertaking and was much praised throughout the profession.

Sheriff David Smith (a former sheriff of Strathclyde) was a friend of over 50 years and says, “Peter was a Glasgow man through and through: always stimulating with a first-rate intellect. But Peter was a very unassuming man and did not seek publicity or honours for himself. He never used the title doctor to which his PhD entitled him. Although he was the obvious choice when a vacancy arose for the post of president of the Sheriffs’ Association in 1982 he had to be persuaded to put himself forward for election. Peter, of course, distinguished himself.”

Mr McNeill believed fervently in the educational value of maps in historical study. In 1973 and 1996 he co-edited with Professor Hector MacQueen (Professor of Private Law at Edinburgh University) An Historical Atlas of Scotland 400-1600. It was a mammoth undertaking. Mr McNeill was involved in many historical societies in Scotland: chairman of the Stair Society (1990-98) and elected its literary editor and was on the council of the Scottish National Dictionary Association (1997-2001).

He married Matilda Rose (Tilly) in 1959. She and their son and three daughters survive him.