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Alcohol price legal challenge fails

Drinks industry bosses have pledged to take their fight to stop the introduction of minimum unit pricing for alcohol in Scotland to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) after their legal challenge was dismissed by a court.

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has rejected pleas by MSPs, alcohol awareness charities and doctors to end their legal challenge to minimum unit pricing (MUP) after Scotland's highest civil court ruled that it was compatible with UK and European Union (EU) law.

Gavin Hewitt, chairman of the SWA, which launched the legal action with Comite Vins and spiritsEUROPE, said "this issue will eventually be considered in Luxembourg". Miles Beale, chief executive of Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), which supports the action, said the ruling "is just the first step in a long legal process".

The SWA and the other European wine and spirits producers argued that the law, passed at the Scottish Parliament last year, would restrict trade and insisted that this was unjustified even if it improved health and saved lives. They also said it will be ineffective in tackling alcohol misuse, will penalise responsible drinkers and damage the industry.

They also argued that the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012 breached the Acts of Union, which created the UK, and the Scotland Act 1998, which created the Scottish Parliament.

Judge Lord Doherty, sitting at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, said: "The court ruled that the Acts of Union were not an impediment to the MUP measures. The court also decided that the measures were not incompatible with EU law. It held that in so far as the measures had equivalent effect to quantitative restrictions on imports they were justified on the grounds of the protection of the life and health of humans."

Speaking at a press conference in the SWA's offices in Edinburgh, Mr Hewitt said: "I believe that since it is European law which is at issue, this issue will eventually be considered in Luxembourg.

"It was always possible that the judge could make a decision like this. We are disappointed. It's not an issue of shareholder value - it's an issue of the EU trading rules and the provisions of the European treaty. We believe it will be ruled illegal because European law indicates that because we've had the 30 years of judgments in the ECJ in Luxembourg which has ruled against MUP."

Mr Beale said: "While this decision is disappointing, it is just the first step in a long legal process. The SWA's decision to appeal is the right one and we support it. We are particularly concerned that the judge has failed to refer this matter to the ECJ. The European Commission and some 10 member states have expressed their concerns about the legality of MUP under EU law. MUP is an ineffective measure which will punish the majority of responsible drinkers through higher prices."

Scottish Government figures suggest a 50p minimum price per unit of alcohol would take the cost of a 70cl bottle of vodka to more than £13 while four cans of 9% lager would increase to at least £7.92.

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