LEGAL costs could affect the organisers of local marches and community protests, while larger organisations like the Orange Order escape being billed, according to a leading expert on parades.

Dr Michael Rosie, of the University of Edinburgh, said a new policy introduced by Police Scotland could see people demonstrating against issues like school closures or benefit cuts charged for road closure court orders.

However, the academic said councils might back down against better-funded and better organised groups.

Dr Rosie, whose independent report on marches, parades and processions was published a year ago, said inconsistencies were bound to happen after the force insisted officers had no powers to close roads in non-emergency situations.

“A group trying to save the local hospital could give up because it is too complicated and expensive to seek an Temporary Traffic Regulation Order (TRRO), while a bigger stronger resilient organisation could avoid paying,” he said.

“Local campaigners against school closures could face being charged £500 to 700 to to exercise that right. But it’s not a right if you have to pay.”

Police Scotland will next week tell the police oversight body, the Scottish Police Authority that without a TRRO, its officers will no longer close roads for marches and processions.

Police Scotland is basing its position on new legal advice, but Mr Rosie said they should publish this advice, because of the implications for free speech. and free association.

A report to be heard by a Scottish Police Authority committee next week says the change of policy will mean councils have to seek TTROs for any marches necessitating road closures.

Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins admits the cost of orders is likely to be passed on to organisers, with some marches and parades no longer viable.

Dr Rosie said the force’s new position has left the rules in a mess.

He added: “Clarity is urgently needed, as this will result in all kinds of inconsistencies and difficulties."

“It also leaves councils in an invidious position. They may face protests or challenges for breaching people’s human rights.”

The authorities have been aware of the problem for at least four years, he said, after Police Scotland informed Angus Council in 2013 that roads could not be closed without a court order.

The Orange Order has already taken on councils over the cost of TTROs and won.

Last year Falkirk Council backed down over charging local Orange lodges for a number of parades.

In August, Inverary Pipe Band was prevented from marching to celebrate being crowned world champions because there was not time to obtain an order.

Previously march organisers would have to give 28 days notice, but traffic orders can take up to three months to process, and cost up to £1,200.

Dr Rosie added. “This is not about Orange marches but the principle of freedom of association and the right to protest,” he said. “Nothing inherent in Police Scotland’s stance inhibits that directly , but in practical terms it will make it much more difficult.”

Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins said police officers were bound by legal opinion, adding: “Existing legislation does not contain powers to enable police to regulate traffic for pre-planned events."