Public health groups and other supporters of minimum unit pricing (MUP) recieved welcome news last week as the Scottish Courts decided the measure could be justified under EU law.
Scotland had first passed legislation to implement MUP in 2012 but have been facing ongoing legal hurdles as a result of action led by sections of the alcohol industry. In January this year the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled it was for the Scottish Inner House of the Court of Session to decide on MUP, but could only agree it if 'proportionality' could be proved.
The latest ruling by Lord Carloway for the Inner House of the Court of Session declared that MUP can be justified as an ‘appropriate’ and ‘proportionate’ restriction on the free movement of goods as no other means, such as taxation, can used more effectively to achieve the expected public health gains. MUP supporters meanwhile have repeatedly stated the difficulties of using taxation in seeking the same effect, in part owing to the extent to which some taxes would need to be raised, the possibility of producers or retailers absorbing increases, and the further complications of EU alcohol tax rules.
See here for a detailed assessment of the ruling by Arianna Andreangeli, a Senior Lecturer in Competition Law at the University of Edinburgh, which states that the ruling "sees this very complex story come to a resolution – although it by no means excludes the possibility that the petitioners will appeal to the UK Supreme Court."
David Frost, the Scotch Whisky Assocation Chief Executive, said they continued to believe that MUP was a restriction on trade and would 'study the details of the judgement and consult our members before deciding on next steps, including any possible appeal to the UK Supreme Court.’
Aileen Campbell, Scotland’s Minister for Public Health, however said the SWA and the wider industry 'must now respect the democratic will of the Scottish Parliament and the ruling of the Court of Session and enable this life-saving measure to be introduced.’
As such, whether MUP will actually come into force on Scottish shops floors in the near future still remains to be seen. Supporters may at least feel like the finishing line is in sight, whilst those behind MUP efforts in Wales and Ireland will also have welcomed the news. An updated position from the UK Prime Minister on England's chances could be unlikely, who as Home Secretary in 2013 said "we are not rejecting MUP" following the former Government's u-turn. A commitment for MUP in England will mostly be off the cards at least until the impact has been seen in Scotland.
- Scottish courts back minimum alcohol price - BBC News
- SHAAP press release
- NHS Health Scotland release
- Sheffield Alcohol Research Group (SARG) statement
- Talk Radio interview with Angus MacCulloch (select 17:00 - 17:30 from 06:20 in)
- Scotch Whisky Association statement
- Herald View: Time to put alcohol pricing measure into operation - The Herald
- Minimum alcohol pricing can go ahead in Scotland, says court - The Guardian
- Why is it any of the EU's business if Scotland introduce minimum pricing for alcohol?
- Leader comment: Alcohol problem must be tackled right now - The Scotsman