Peter Julian Millett was born in June 1932. In 1954, he received his Master of Arts in Classics and Law from Trinity Hall at Cambridge.
He was then called to the bar at Middle Temple, London, and served as a flying officer in the Royal Air Force between 1955 and 1957.
From 1958 he started practising at the Chancery Bar, where he would stay until 1986. In 1959 he also joined Lincoln’s Inn, of which he would become a bencher in 1980. He kept very busy, working as an examiner and lecturer for the Council of Legal Education, junior counsel at the Department of Trade and Industry, member of the General Council of the Bar, member of the Law Commission and member of Queen’s Counsel.
In 1986, he was appointed a judge of the High Court of Justice and received his knighthood. He later joined the Privy Council and became Lord of Appeal in Ordinary in 1998. In that year, he was made a life peer. In 2000 he was a Non-Permanent Judge of the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal.
Lord Millett was highly regarded by his peers throughout his impressive legal and judicial career and was considered an excellent judge to appear in front of. In 2015 he published his personal and legal memoir “As in memory long” which has been described by a critic as ’a delight, quietly instructive and a truly pleasurable read’.
Between 1991 and 1995, he was also President of the West London synagogue.
He married Ann Mireille Harris in 1959 and together they had three sons and five grandchildren. He ascended to the Grand Lodge Above on 27 May 2021.
As a Freemason, Lord Millett was initiated into the Chancery Bar Lodge No 2456 in 1968 and joined the Old Harrovian Lodge No 4653 in 1971. He was exalted in the Chapter of Felicity No 58 in 1977. He served as Assistant Grand Registrar in 1983 and was promoted to Past Junior Grand Warden in 1994.
On 1st October 2003, the Royal Albert Hall hosted a historic milestone of English Freemasonry. On that very special day, the MW the Grand Master HRH the Duke of Kent inaugurated both the Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London and Metropolitan Grand Chapter of London. Then the Grand Master proceeded to install Lord Millett as both Metropolitan Grand Master of London in the Craft and Metropolitan Grand Superintendent in and over London in the Royal Arch.
RW Bro Russell Race PMetGM, remembers “So you’re the chap that they have picked to be my Deputy!” This was my first introduction to Peter Millett in the late summer of 2003, very shortly before the Inauguration of Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Metropolitan Grand Chapter at the Royal Albert Hall. But far from being the rather daunting challenge which it may appear on paper, it was said, as so often with Peter, with a smile and a twinkle in the eye.
Many of you will have read the comprehensive obituaries which have appeared since his death at the end of May. They outlined his most impressive career in the law, initially at the bar and latterly on the bench, leading ultimately to his time as a Law Lord [precursor to membership of the Supreme Court]. After retiring as a Law Lord in 2004, Peter continued as a non-permanent Judge in Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal until 2017, as well as having an extensive arbitration practice.
What strikes one particularly is the wide range of cases in which Peter appeared, both as an advocate and a Judge, from abstruse commercial ones to groundbreaking judgements dealing with intensely personal issues.
The way in which Peter dealt with all these matters in his Court is summed up in one obituary as “He did his best to maintain a relaxed atmosphere in court, feeling that this was more likely to induce a proper outcome than one in which everyone is tense.” In my experience, during Peter’s six years as the head of London Freemasonry, that is exactly the way in which he related to our members, whether in small groups or in the big set-piece occasions where he was investing many recipients of honours. All were put at ease, and none were awed by someone of great intellect who had reached the summit of his profession but who wore that position lightly.
Peter enjoyed his Freemasonry and made no secret of his membership, which did lead to some press comment as he rose through his career. But his very obvious openness about this and all other matters regarding his judicial rulings quickly put an end to such sniping.
I greatly enjoyed Peter’s company and will miss his ready humour and the fund of stories about his time in the law. But beyond our personal memories, we should all in London Freemasonry be truly grateful for his leadership during the initial years of our independent existence. Putting Metropolitan Freemasonry on the map and gaining universal acceptance both within London and with our Provincial colleagues, is a legacy for which Peter Millett should long be remembered.
RW Bro Russell Race PMetGM June 2021
By the late 1990s, Freemasonry’s reputation for secrecy drove a sharp increase in negative opinion across the British public. UGLE’s Rulers and the Board of General Purposes were very keen to address the unflattering image.
The Public School Lodges’ Festival, held annually by the Public School Lodges’ Council, followed the same strategic direction in 1999. Harrow School was in charge of the Festival that year. For the first time, they held a symposium where the Brethren and their non-masonic guests could attend together. The members of the Old Harrovian Lodge were allowed to appear in full regalia in a gesture of transparency. They had invited one of theirs, Lord Millett, to deliver a speech on secrecy. According to a brother present, “Peter Millett’s speech was at the heart of what we were trying to say – it was thoughtful, clear and, as you would expect, intellectually razor sharp.”
Lord Millett’s speech is worthy of record, and should anyone wish to read a copy, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. It marked a distinct turning point in the Masonry/Secrecy debate and helped deflate the old-fashioned idea of Freemasonry being a secret conspiracy bent on world domination.
Although the speech is two decades old, it still resonates loudly today and aligns squarely with today’s strategy to increase public acceptance of Freemasonry through transparency and openness.
Extracts from Lord Millet’s speech:
We live in the information age. There are no secrets anymore, at least there are fewer than there used to be… It has been said that the modern definition of a secret is that it is something that must be told to one person at a time.
There are secrets in masonry, but masonry is not a secret society. We are not forbidden from acknowledging our membership. Masons have nothing to hide, nothing to be ashamed of. But we claim the right, which everyone has, mason and non-mason, to keep our private affairs private.
This applies in particular to our ritual. Our ritual is not secret, but it is private. We want it to remain private. Freemasonry is something we should all be proud of. We should not be afraid to acknowledge our membership. […]. It means that we have set ourselves high standards in public and private life. It means that we have undertaken to respond to the claims of charity and to obey the dictates of the moral law.
This article is part of the Arena Magazine, Issue 45 July 2021 edition.
Arena Magazine is the official magazine of the London Freemasons - Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Metropolitan Grand Chapter of London.
Read more articles in the Arena Issue 45.