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who the sheriff shot

There was an unusual bit of sentencing at Perth Sheriff Court.

Sheriff Lindsay Foulis turned to the duty social worker and said: "You are the messenger and you are getting shot."

The social worker was not executed by firing squad. Probably for some health and safety reason or a technicality in the Criminal Justice Scotland Act.

Sheriff Foulis was expressing his discontent with the quality of social work reports. Specifically, the lack of information about whether the person in the dock was fit enough to do unpaid work under the Community Payback scheme. (Sheriff Foulis might have taken a hint from the fact the felon awaiting sentence was guilty of an attack with a baton and may have been fit for litter-picking, graffiti removal, or even a few shifts as a special police constable.)

While the concept of shooting social workers is interesting, it has to be said that sheriffs are not what they used to be when it comes to bons mots and odd behaviour making even small headlines in the public prints.

Here are some examples from yesteryear: Sheriff Irvine Smith was widely considered the wittiest man on the bench. Except perhaps by the unfortunate accused whom Irvine Smith referred to as a "fecund liar". Or the fine defaulter who offered to pay 50p a week. A deal rejected by the sheriff who said he was there to dispense justice not run a catalogue. I could fill a book with Irvine Smithisms but he has done so himself with Law, Life and Laughter.

Which leaves room to mention Sheriff Jackie Stewart of Airdrie who unlike many judges kept up with popular culture. A youth released on condition of good behaviour was warned he had the eyes of the law upon him. "Remember, you have Klingons on the starboard bow," said Sheriff Stewart.

Sheriff David Smith of Kilmarnock was not particularly hilarious in court, except for the time he sang The Sash twice during a trial about sectarian behaviour.

Sheriff Thomas Croan, also Kilmarnock, was a master of homespun philosophy about doing crime and doing time. Many a thief went to the cells with the message: "He who takes what isn't hissen, comes before me and goes to prison."

The above is delivered with the caveat allegedly, without prejudice, and in a voice lower than a murmur.

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