GEOGRAPHICAL variations in the use of Police Scotland's emergency coronavirus powers are being examined by a top human rights lawyer tasked with scrutinising the force.

John Scott QC was commissioned by Chief Constable Iain Livingstone to review how Police Scotland is applying new legislation.

His independent advisory group has already identified a number of areas of interest, including geographical differences in the use of police powers such as fines - and a possible link between enforcement and poverty.

He said:"If you mapped poverty on to where the fixed penalty notices were, if you were able to do that, I think you would find significant overlap."

He added: "If that proves to be right, and that would be my expectation, then it ties into discussions that we've been having for many, many years about the postcode aspects of criminalisation, tying into poverty and deprivation."

Figures suggest areas in the west of Scotland have seen more activity and enforcement, potentially mirroring a trend noted previously in stop and search practices. However Mr Scott said it is a complicated picture and not clear-cut.

An online portal is set to be launched on Tuesday to gather public experiences and help complete the picture.

Mr Scott said: "Apart from the public portal on Tuesday, we're trying to set up small focus groups with officers in different parts of the country as well, so that we get their take on it."

The latest statistics, which cover up to May 20, show 2,851 fixed penalty notices have been dished out across Scotland for breaches of coronavirus rules.

Greater Glasgow saw the largest number, 686, followed by Lanarkshire with 412, Argyll and West Dunbartonshire with 309 and Renfrewshire and Inverclyde with 235.

Mr Scott, who is chair of Police Scotland's Covid-19 independent advisory group, said it is too early to say whether there has been heavy-handed policing in some areas.

He said the context for any geographical differences is crucial.

An interim report submitted to the Scottish Police Authority by the new group says: "Data indicates variation in the extent of use of the powers in different geographical areas within Scotland.

"This is likely to have happened for a variety of reasons, including cultural.

"Differences may relate, for example, to existing attitudes to the police in certain places, the particular difficulties in complying with lockdown in circumstances of significant deprivation, or the prevalence or otherwise of public parks or spaces which may act as an attraction for exercise or having human contact or simply spending some time outside a small, confined space.

"At this stage, the data prompts more questions than answers and we hope to pick up on some of the reasons for geographical variations in engagement with police officers and affected members of the public."

Mr Scott previously headed a probe into stop and search which found Police Scotland made excessive use of the non-statutory power.

Earlier this month, speaking about Covid-19 powers, he told Scottish Legal News: "The west has seen more police activity and more enforcement. That mirrors what happened with stop and search.

"It causes us to ask questions, but it doesn't necessarily mean someone is doing it right and someone else is not."

He said Strathclyde Police "made the far greater use of stop and search and there's a continuing legacy".

He told The Herald it is too early to reach conclusions, but said he would be "astonished" if there is no link between enforcement and deprived areas.

His advisory group said its "informed impression at this stage is that enforcement powers have been used only as a last resort and only when necessary and proportionate".

Its report said it had discussed the "cluttered landscape when it comes to communications about what is expected of the public and required of Police Scotland".

It said "contradictory" messaging from police forces in England and Wales has added to the scope for confusion, and this may have filtered through to Scotland.

Speaking at a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority earlier this week, Mr Livingstone said the work being carried out by Mr Scott's team is "absolutely crucial to public consent, police legitimacy, the role of the police service in this public health emergency, and that interaction between public consent and where required, the police having to take enforcement".