Obituary: Iain Macmillan CBE, former president of the Law Society of Scotland

Iain Macmillan CBE
Iain Macmillan CBE
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Iain Alexander Macmillan CBE, sheriff and lawyer. Born: 14 November, 1923 in Oban. 
Died: 8 May, 2019 in Kilmarnock, aged 95

Opting for a career in law was a somewhat arbitrary decision for Iain Macmillan, a young man searching for his path in life following demob from what he drily described as “inactive service” during the Second World War.

Having initially been rejected for the war effort due to left-sided deafness, he was eventually allowed to enlist and sent to the RAF’s Bombing Analysis Unit. Four years later, and back in Civvy Street after postings in France, Germany and India, he was casting around for ideas when his sister suggested the legal profession.

That was the prompt he needed and, though he could not know it then, it was to be the catalyst for a distinguished career that would take him to the heart of the administration of Scots law – as a solicitor, sheriff, influential educator and president of the Law Society of Scotland.

It had, however, been a meandering route. From Oban, the teenage son of clothing salesman Johnny Macmillan and his wife Eva headed to Glasgow after leaving Oban High School. The war was already under way by then but he was still only 17 and doing a company secretarial course at the city’s Scottish College of Commerce.

Determined to do his bit and follow in the footsteps his father, who had served in the Great War, he was infuriated by his subsequent rejection for active service. But by 19 his life had taken a different turn when he found himself, as a result of the war, working for the legendary Scots playwright Dr OH Mavor, otherwise known as James Bridie.

A contemporary of George Bernard Shaw and J B Priestly, at one point Bridie had three successful plays running concurrently in London’s West End. And when his personal secretary was called up, a vacancy was created. With the assistance of the head of the commercial college, Macmillan stepped into his shoes. He dealt with the writer’s correspondence, casting books of actors and weekly returns from West End theatres. He was also encouraged to write himself and ended up as a theatre critic, occasionally writing for a newspaper.

Finally called up to serve his country in 1944, he joined the RAF, serving in France after D Day and in Germany following victory in Europe. He was later stationed in India, mainly in New Delhi, before the country was partitioned.

Demobbed in 1947, the 24-year-old latched on to his older sister Doreen’s idea of a job in law and studied at night classes while doing the traditional on-the-job apprenticeship. By the early 1950s he had qualified and become a solicitor in Kilmarnock, where he worked for J & J Sturrock & Co. A council member of the Law Society of Scotland from 1964, he later became president, serving in 1976-77. During his career, which saw him appointed to the bench in Hamilton in 1981, he made a significant contribution to the restructuring of legal education. He almost single-handedly developed what became known as Post Qualification Legal Experience and was heavily involved in the change, in 1982, which required all prospective lawyers to obtain a Diploma in Legal Practice and complete a traineeship rather than do an apprenticeship.

His work in this field led to the award of an Honorary Doctorate of Law from Aberdeen University and he earned the CBE for his services to the legal profession.

Describing him as an outstanding representative for the profession, current Law Society president Alison Atack said: “During his years on council and as president, his extensive knowledge of the law and practice benefitted the society, our membership and his colleagues. Iain’s passion and commitment to the profession and all it stands for was unstinting throughout his exceptional career.”

He retired at the age of 71 after more than a decade on the bench and, so concerned was he about the victims of crime he had come across as a sheriff, that he joined Victim Support and chaired its local branch.

Post-retirement, he also played a significant role as chair of the property trustees of the Glasgow Art Club, particularly in respect of the total refurbishment of its gallery, making it much more accessible to the public.

In addition to art, he loved music, walking, sailing and golfing. A voracious reader, from his days when he was influenced by James Bridie, he also wrote an autobiography, I Had It From My Father, published in 2011.

Almost indestructible, he only retired from the art club trustees aged 94, having survived a litany of injuries over the previous decade: he was knocked down by a van in his 80s and suffered a broken pelvis; underwent significant surgery at 88; was rescued from an overturned car at 90; and broke his neck at the age of 92 during a Mediterranean cruise. He only succumbed recently following a fall and a bad injury.

He is survived by Edith, his wife of 65 years, their three children Johnny, Jennifer and Fergus, nine grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

ALISON SHAW