Both sides confident of victory

Battle over price of alcohol back in European court

whiskyThe Scottish Government will resume its campaign to introduce minimum pricing on alcohol today.

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg will hold an oral hearing this morning. EU member states will also have the opportunity to make representations on the Scottish Government’s proposal to introduce a 50p minimum price for a unit of alcohol.

Evidence heard at the hearing will help the court to produce a preliminary ruling on the policy, which will be issued later this year. That will then be referred to Edinburgh’s Court of Session which will make its decision on the appeal being lodged by parts of the alcohol industry.

Minimum unit pricing was passed unopposed by the Scottish Parliament in 2012. The Scotch Whisky Association mounted a legal challenge in Court of Session, which found overwhelmingly in favour of the Scottish Government. However, this decision was appealed by the SWA, and the appeal court sought advice from the European Court in 2014.

Health Secretary Shona Robison said: “In Scotland we drink far more than we did a generation ago, and alcohol consumption is almost a fifth higher than the rest of the UK. Heavy drinking places a heavy burden on society, not just by damaging health and causing premature death, but also by contributing to crime and disorder.

“Introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol is the best, most targeted way to tackle the affordability of cheap, strong alcohol consumed by heavy drinkers without penalising moderate drinkers. It will reduce the many harms caused by excessive drinking, as part of the broad range of actions we are taking.

“I’m confident that we have a strong case, and I’m proud that Scotland is leading the way in Europe on this important issue.”

Countries expected to mount supportive arguments today are Ireland, Norway, UK and Sweden.

David Frost, chief executive of the SWA, last month told the members meeting in Edinburgh that the health issue remained central to the reputation of the sector, but he was confident that the SWA would win its legal challenge over minimum pricing.

“Minimum pricing is still out there and the legal case is unresolved and controversial,” he told the 180 delegates.

“Other territories are taking up the idea, but the case is with the European court which is where we wanted it to be. We are confident in our case and we look forward to vindication in the next 12 months.”

Addressing the health issue, Fraser Thornton, managing director of Burn Stewart, said: “We are more active than the tobacco industry.”

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