A SHERIFF has launched a withering attack on social workers, accusing them of being incompetent and trying to do his job for him.

Sheriff Lindsay Foulis left one court social worker visibly distressed when he ferociously criticised the quality of reports being supplied by her colleagues.

At one point he slammed down a bundle of Criminal Justice Social Work reports and said: "I might as well have not called for this. It's not good enough."

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He told Perth Sheriff Court that he was fed-up with social workers limiting his sentencing options by failing to bother assessing accused persons for unpaid work as part of Community Payback.

The sheriff said they were wrong to only offer the options of a fine, a restriction of liberty order or deferring sentence to a later date.

"I'm extremely annoyed. If a court asks for a report it wants all aspects covered, including unpaid work. If they are unsuitable for unpaid work put that in the report.

"A report is asking social workers to cover everything. It's not for you to decide sentencing – it is for the sheriff. One option which must be covered in every case is unpaid work.

"It is not satisfactory," he said in one case, before resuming the theme in another case [Dale Burns] a short time later. "Can someone tell me if he's fit to undertake unpaid work?

"I convicted Mr Burns on October 31 and deferred sentence for reports. Not a word is mentioned about any community payback disposals. Can I ask why?

"This is totally unacceptable. I'm not having it. I do not know why this thinking has come in. You are the messenger and you are getting shot," he told the duty social worker in court.

"But you have no idea how frustrating and annoying it is. I do apologise because I know you are not the principal person, but why I am making this point so strenuously is because it is a source of considerable annoyance and frustration to me.

"It may be hard to follow for your colleagues but at the end of the day sentencing is for the court. Any report prepared is supposed to assist the court in that process.

"It is only for the court's information and assistance. Are you telling me I can't sentence this accused today because the report I have got is not the report I asked for?

"Community payback is the all-singing, all-dancing new thing. I just find it astounding that the court calls for a report and we can't get any information on community payback. It defeats me. You've drawn the short straw. You're just the poor soul sitting there today."

He then told the accused that it was not his fault the full detail was not available.

The sheriff told the court that he was not picking simply on Perth and Kinross Council's social work department, as he had a similarly shoddy report from Fife Council.

Burns, who attacked a man with a wooden baton in the street, was told to carry out 180 hours' unpaid work after the sheriff confirmed with his lawyer that he was fit to do it.

Burns, 19, of Auchterarder, Perthshire was found guilty of attacking Craig Patrick with a wooden baton outside a bar in May.