Obituary: Sheriff Peter McNeill, 92

A RESPECTED legal mind who penned a definitive guide to adoption legislation has died aged 92.

Sheriff Peter McNeill passed away in Edinburgh on April 22 and is survived by his wife Matilda, their son and three daughters.

Peter Grant Brass McNeill was educated at Hillhead High School in Glasgow and, for a year during wartime, at Morrison's Academy in Crieff, Perthshire.

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He later read law at the University of Glasgow, where he was awarded a Carnegie Fellowship and subsequently a Faulds Fellowship to enable him to write his doctoral thesis on the judicial aspect of the Scots Privy Council.

In 1956, he was called to the Scottish Bar and firstly acted as honorary sheriff substitute of Lanarkshire before returning as full sheriff for Lanarkshire and becoming advocate depute in 1964.

One year later, he was appointed 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.

Mr McNeill was also involved in several public enquiries - most notably chairing the review board into the Chinook helicopter accident in 1988 - and specialised in adoption law. He wrote the acclaimed Adoption of Children in Scotland in 1982, which is now in its fourth edition.

He was distinguished by his remarkable knowledge of the law and its interpretation. His patience in court and lucid summaries ensured he was respected by his colleagues and court officials.

Mr McNeill retained a passion for Scotland's legal history all his life. No more so was this evidenced when he republished the 18th century document, Balfour's Practicks.

The original was published in 1754 by Sir James Balfour, of whom Mr McNeill noted was "amongst the dodgier characters of Scottish legal history but it is evident that he was a pretty good lawyer". The completed work by Mr McNeill was praised throughout the profession.

Sheriff David Smith, former sheriff of Strathclyde and a friend of Mr McNeill's for more than 50 years, said: "Peter was a stimulating and quiet man with a first-rate intellect. But despite Peter's formidable brain and knowledge of history, he was a very unassuming man. He never used the title doctor to which his PhD entitled him.

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"Although he was the obvious choice when a vacancy arose for the post of president of the Sheriff's Association in 1982, he had to be persuaded to put himself forward for election. Peter, of course, distinguished himself."

Mr McNeill was involved with a raft of 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).