Solicitor, Deputy Keeper of the Signet

Born: February 19, 1927;

Died: March 16, 2020.

PETER Millar OBE, who has died aged 93, was a distinguished solicitor and a much respected member of the Scottish legal profession. He served the Writers to the Signet, the WS Society, for 27 years; for eight of those years he was Deputy Keeper of the Signet (DKS), introducing various far-reaching benefits and regulations that helped to bring the profession into a more technical era.

To Edinburgh’s Cockburn Association, meanwhile, he was “one of the most instrumental figures in the history of our Association and of Edinburgh’s emerging conservation movement in the early second half of the 20th century”.

Caroline Docherty, herself a former DKS, has written of “Peter’s unique service to the WS Society.” Millar, she added, was “the only person in the long history of the Society to have held both the post of Clerk to the WS Society and its DKS. The volume of the work, and the time that Peter gave to the Society throughout his years as Clerk was considerable.

“Peter was also very involved with all that was required to bring about the necessary changes to the Society’s Regulations in 1976, to allow women to become Writers to the Signet. When, some 22 years later I became DKS he was one of the first to write to congratulate me, and to tell me how much he had enjoyed the role, as he hoped I would.”

Peter Carmichael Millar was born in Glasgow, the elder of two children of the Rev Peter Millar, Minister of Balshagray Church, and his wife, Ailsa. In 1933 Millar snr was appointed to West Kirk of St Nicholas in Aberdeen; Peter went on to attend Aberdeen Grammar School, where he was captain of the Hockey X1. He left school in 1944, eager to join the Royal Navy.

First, however, he did two terms at Glasgow University reading English and History. In 1945, he undertook officer training in Devonport but as the war had ended he volunteered as an ordinary seaman and served in the Far East and Australia.

When he was demobbed he returned to his studies at St Andrews University, graduating with an MA in 1949. He then decided to read law and graduated in 1952 from Edinburgh University. He was an apprentice with the distinguished Edinburgh firm of Davidson & Syme, qualifying as a solicitor in 1954.

He joined the noted firm of Aitken Nairn and remained with them until his retirement in 1992, his last years as senior partner.

From 1964 until 1983 he was Clerk of the WS Society; he then became Deputy Keeper of the Signet, a post he held until 1991. He was instrumental in introducing many changes within the Society that did much to improve the image and the working conditions of the profession throughout Scotland.

In 1971 he was instrumental in founding the Edinburgh Solicitors’ Property Centre.

Millar was presented with a particularly challenging task in 1977 when the fifth Commonwealth Law Society Conference was hastily rescheduled after political problems made it impossible to be held in Idi Amin’s Uganda. The Law Society asked Millar to organise a conference in Edinburgh for 2000 delegates. He did so with enthusiasm and scheduled a much-praised and instructive programme of lectures.

He was keen to cultivate good relations with other legal bodies, notably the City of London Law Society. He annually attended their annual banquet in the Mansion House and often spoke at the dinner.

For his 90th birthday the WS Society hosted a lunch party in the Commissioners’ Room for Millar and his wife Kirsteen. It was attended by the Keeper, all of the Deputy Keepers who had succeeded him, and many colleagues and friends.

Millar worked tirelessly on behalf of various charities. He had considered reading theology before deciding on the law. Both he and his wife served as Elders at St Giles’ Cathedral for many years before joining their local Cramond Kirk. Millar was active throughout the Church of Scotland most noticeably as (1973-1985) a most diligent Chairman of the General Trustees of the Church of Scotland, the statutory corporation which administers the Church’s properties and investments. It was a post that required much diplomacy and detailed administration.

Millar was a devoted family man and a keen golfer and hillwalker. He enjoyed listening to music, and had been an officer of the Edinburgh Festival Society. He was a member of Bruntsfield Links and Muirfield golf clubs, serving as honorary secretary of the former for six years in the Eighties.

Millar, who was made an OBE in 1978, enjoyed a most happy marriage of 66 years with Kirsteen. She and a daughter and two sons survive him. Another daughter predeceased him.

Alasdair Steven