UGANDA to Alloa isn't a path travelled often, but for Clackmannanshire's former resident sheriff, it is one which kickstarted his passion for helping others in a career hastily decided by a "scatty" teenager.

Sheriff David Mackie hung up his robe and wig on Friday, December 20, ending a 15-year stint as a permanent fixture in the courtrooms of Alloa.

Although many things about the sheriff are conventional, the road he took to get where he finished was anything but.

He spent the first nine years of his life in the warm and sunny climes of Uganda until his father lost his job as the country obtained its independence. The family then moved to Ayr before a 15-year-old David decided that he wanted to become a lawyer, which he did by acquiring a law degree from the University of Edinburgh.

Following a career as a journeyman solicitor and advocate, he experienced a serious health scare which resulted in emergency cranial surgery that changed his perspective. And with that, he decided to become a sheriff, which he did part-time, initially, before arriving in Alloa as resident in 2004.

It was a quiet, sunny day when his first sentencing came across the bench – a woman brought in from custody for attempting to smuggle drugs into her husband who was serving a sentence in HMP Glenochil. Rather than throw the book at her, the sheriff gave her a "fairly lenient" sentence, owing to very difficult circumstances in her life, and in the case.

The case kickstarted a philosophy for the sheriff, one which has proved controversial over the years, but one which he is adamant is right.

Speaking to the Advertiser, Sheriff Mackie said he realised what his purpose was very quickly.

He said: "I came into being a sheriff without a philosophy; I had been a lawyer and an advocate and was doing quite well.

"The decision to become a sheriff was a career choice rather than anything to do with a burning desire to get justice. But very quickly I realised that there was a great privilege to serving the public.

"That feeling grew in me really quickly. I developed a desire to properly understand why and how people come into the criminal justice system.

"I began to ask myself: 'Is it really just what I think,' so I made it my purpose to find out why people get involved in crime and that led me to joining Scottish Association for the Study of Offending (SASO) and the Howard League, and bit-by-bit I gained more insight into why people offend.

"I learned that short sentences achieve nothing," he added. "There is more research than you need to know that short sentences do more harm than good. They ruin lives of offenders and their families.

"In the sheriff court you find yourself dealing with people who break the law because of their circumstances. So many people who came in front of me had mental health problems, addictions, [or were affected by] domestic abuse or sexual abuse.

"Someone who has experienced trauma is likely to respond to situations differently from others, with violence for instance."

It is this approach which sometimes sparks a backlash among many in Clackmannanshire who see his philosophy as being soft on offenders. However, Sheriff Mackie was unwavering in his response, stating that particular criticism doesn't bother him.

He said: "I don't mind being known as the softy's softy when it comes to sentencing because hard and soft is an irrelevant consideration. What is appropriate for the individual and society? We have to help people desist from crime.

"Being known as soft is meaningless to me. As long as I'm happy in my own mind that I've made a decision that I can justify and that I think is right."

For Sheriff Mackie, more of his colleagues could think outside of the box when it comes to sentencing because, as he puts it, the wrong decision at the wrong time could lead to someone's suicide.

Despite the robes being put away for the time being, the sheriff will continue serving his passion by striving to have restorative justice introduced in Scotland, and Alloa, as he aims to give victims a voice in the criminal justice process.

Away from the courtrooms at the grand age of 66, he will enjoy the finer things in life as he oversees the building of a new home up north.

Speaking with a wry smile, he finishes the conversation by looking back, As an unruly teenager, he notes that he could have easily taken the wrong road following his father's death when he was just 13 years old.

He reflects: "If it wasn't for a strong brother, strong mother and a good family, I could easily have gone down the wrong path."

Thankfully, for the justice system and the people of Clackmannanshire, Sheriff Mackie instead chose the road which helped many.