Scotch Whisky Association applauds MUP ruling

3rd September, 2015 by Amy Hopkins

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has claimed victory in Europe this morning after the Advocate General said plans for minimum alcohol pricing in Scotland risk contravening free trade laws.

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The Scotch Whisky Association said it finds the Advocate General’s opinion on MUP “encouraging”

Yves Bot, the top lawyer at the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), issued his official opinion on the Scottish government’s bid to introduce MUP on alcohol this morning.

He stated that the measure could only be justified if no other protection of public health, such as tax increases, was viable.

The CJEU is expected to issue a final ruling on the matter at the start of 2016, but many will see Bot’s statement as substantially increasing the likelihood that the court will rule against the Scottish government.

Lawmakers have been unable to implement MUP, which was pioneered by Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon in her previous role as health secretary, while the legal challenge has been on going.

The SWA and other trade members took action against the bill, which would see a minimum price unit of 50p, when it was passed in 2012, arguing MUP breaches European law.

However the government, along with health lobbyists and doctors, has contended that MUP will drastically reduce alcohol misuse in Scotland.

Long-running legal process

The trade’s bid to block minimum pricing was initially rejected in 2013 by Lord Doherty at Scotland’s Court of Justice, who claimed the act was “not outside the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament” and was not incompatible with EU law.

In April 2014, Scotland’s Court of Session referred the case to the CJEU after the SWA appealed against Lord Doherty’s decision.

“We welcome the Advocate General’s opinion on minimum unit pricing (MUP) of alcohol. The opinion encourages us in our long-held view that MUP is illegal when there are less trade restrictive measures available. We await the Court of Justice’s final ruling.

“It remains important to address alcohol misuse with a range of other measures of proven effectiveness. We will continue to work closely with the Scottish government and other stakeholders on this.

“There is a long-term trend of falling alcohol-related deaths and harms in Scotland which suggests that measures in place are working.”

The SWA has long argued that minimum pricing will not tackle alcohol misuse effectively, and could “severely damage” the Scotch whisky industry’s export markets, as well as the Scottish economy.

Trade body SpiritsEurope also welcomed Bot’s decision. “The opinion encourages us in our long-held view that MUP is neither proportionate nor necessary, and is, consequently, illegal under EU law,” said Paul Skehan, director general of SpiritsEurope.

“We welcome the statement of this important principle at European Union level since it affects every member state.

“Is it time to now move on? Instead of wasting more time debating the illegality of MUP, we believe it would be far better to discuss useful, legal ways of tackling the alcohol-related issues that persist, not only in Scotland, but around the EU.

“Tackling alcohol-related harm requires collective efforts for targeted actions – in partnership, at local level. There are a range of other initiatives of proven effectiveness, not based on theoretical computer models”

Once the European Court of Justice has issued its ruling in the coming months, Scotland’s Court of Session will the be able to make the final decision with regards to the potential rejection of MUP.

The UK government shelved plans to introduce a minimum pricing plan in England and Wales in 2013 over fears it could hit responsible drinkers.

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