COUNCILS cannot use byelaws to implement "buffer zones" outside abortion clinics, legal experts have ruled. 

The Scottish Government has previously said local authorities would be best placed to bring in measures to prevent anti-abortion campaigners from gathering outside clinics.

However, legal advice released by COSLA on Friday has confirmed that this must be addressed nationally, and to do so on a local authority basis would be unlawful.

The announcement comes a year after the student-run group, Back Off Scotland, was first established with the goal of securing national 150-metre buffer zones around clinics providing abortion services.

Protests often take place outside Chalmers Sexual Health Clinic in Edinburgh.

The National: Chalmers StreetChalmers Street

The issue, which is now being taken forward in the Scottish Parliament as a Members’ Bill by Green MSP, Gillian Mackay, and has garnered cross-party support. 

A report by COSLA’s Counsel said: "The Opinion that [the Local Authority Professional Association of Lawyers and Administrators] SOLAR obtained from Counsel is unequivocal and confirms that local authorities cannot use byelaws to implement buffer zones at NHS reproductive health facilities. 

"It also went further stating that where powers exist to deal with a matter then Local Authorities cannot implement byelaws. 

“SOLAR has shared the Opinion with both Scottish Govt and Police Scotland.  To date, we understand Scottish Govt lawyers are still to respond to this legal opinion provided by Counsel.”

Back Off Scotland say that although the SNP made buffer zone commitments in a 2021 manifesto, Women’s Health Minister, Maree Todd MSP, has continually passed her responsibility on to local councils.

Co-founder and director Lucy Grieve said: “Women’s Health Minister, Maree Todd MSP, has paid lip service to the buffer zone issue since her appointment earlier this year. It is very disingenuous.

“This new legal advice clearly shows that it is the responsibility of the Scottish Government to protect those accessing healthcare from intimidation and harassment.

"Any attempts to shy away from this new information makes the Scottish Government’s abdication of duty all the more shameful.”