Plans to set a minimum unit price for alcohol (MUP) in Scotland have been backed by the Scottish courts

The court’s ruling

The Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled against a challenge by the Scotch whisky industry. The alcohol industry contended that the plans were a breach of European Law. The ruling now paves the way for the Scottish government to implement its policy. The MUP policy had already been passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2012.

In conclusion, the judges found:

For these reasons, the grounds submitted in the reclaiming motion are not well founded. The Lord Ordinary directed himself correctly on European Union law. He applied that law accurately to the facts which he found demonstrated by the material before him…”

In its ruling, the Court of Session said:

The advantage of the proposed minimum pricing system, so far as protecting health and life was concerned, was that it was linked to the strength of the alcohol.”

Effects of the Scottish MUP policy

Under the MUP policy, a price of 50p per unit of alcohol would be set, taking a bottle of spirits to at least £14. The Scottish government, health professionals, police, alcohol charities and some members of the alcohol industry all are convinced that MUP would help address Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol.

Minimum unit pricing sets a floor price below which alcohol may not be sold. The effect would vary from alcohol product to product but would be most significant at the lower end of the market.

The MUP policy would put an end to the unethical pricing of “below cost sales” by the alcohol industry.

Unethical Big Alcohol tactics

But the Scotch Whisky Association and wine makers brought a challenge claiming it was a breach of trade law.

More than four years ago, the MUP policy was adopted in the Scottish Parliament unopposed. But the numerous legal challenges by the alcohol industry have been thwarting the democratic will leading to continued deaths and diseases due to alcohol in that period – that could otherwise have been prevented.

According to BBC reports, Dr Peter Bennie, chairman of the British Medical Association Scotland said:

Every year that has been lost to the alcohol industry’s delaying tactics has brought with it a human cost in lives lost and health damaged.

The alcohol industry needs to accept today’s judgement and stop attempting to put their own agenda ahead of the public interest.”

Good day for alcohol policy in the EU

The Scottish ruling also diminishes the legal threat to similar legislation in other European countries. Continued legal challenges by the alcohol industry had brought the Scottish case even before the European Court of Justice, which ruled last December that European law may have been breached.

In the official ECJ opinion dating back to September 2015, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) said Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) would only be legal if it could be shown that no other mechanism could deliver the desired public health benefits.

A Member State can choose rules imposing a minimum retail price of alcoholic beverages, which restricts trade within the European Union and distorts competition, rather than increased taxation of those products, only on condition that it shows that the measure chosen presents additional advantages or fewer disadvantages by comparison with the alternative measure.”

The ECJ said it was ultimately up to national courts to make the decision about whether to implement MUP or not. The Scottish ruling together with the ECJ opinion open the doors now for similar legislation in other European countries.

For example, in Ireland the implementation of minimum unit pricing has been delayed but is due back in the Seanad next week. The Irish Times is reporting that Alcohol Action Ireland welcomed the ruling and said it was positive for Ireland as minimum unit pricing was a key measure in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.

Source Website: Scottish Court of Sessions