Minimum Pricing May Face Supreme Court Challenge

18 November 2016, 11:09 | Updated: 18 November 2016, 11:30

Plans to bring in minimum pricing for alcohol in Scotland could face a further legal challenge - at the UK's highest court.

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has applied to take its appeal against the Scottish Government's minimum unit pricing (MUP) plans to the UK Supreme Court.

It comes after Scotland's top civil court, the Court of Session in Edinburgh, backed the measure last month.

The SWA said it has applied to judges in Scotland for leave to appeal to the London-based court.

The move is the latest step in a prolonged legal wrangle over the Scottish Government's proposals, which are aimed at improving public health in Scotland.

MSPs passed legislation at Holyrood in 2012 to bring in minimum pricing, which would initially be set at 50p per unit, but the long-running legal challenge has stalled implementation of the policy.

The Scottish Government has described the move as "deeply disappointing'' and said it is determined to implement the policy as soon as possible.

The SWA said it has taken the next step in the belief that minimum pricing for alcohol is incompatible with EU law.

The legal battle returned to the Scottish courts after an earlier ruling on the matter from the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

SWA's acting chief executive Julie Hesketh-Laird said its intention to continue the legal challenge was not taken lightly and follows wide consultation.

She said: "Given our strong view that minimum pricing is incompatible with EU law and likely to be ineffective, we now hope that our appeal can be heard quickly in the UK Supreme Court.

"Having studied the ruling, we believe the Scottish court has not properly reviewed the legislation's compatibility with EU law as required by the European Court's judgment.''

She said the SWA is committed to working with the Scottish Government and others to tackle alcohol misuse.

Scottish Health Secretary Shona Robison said: "The Scotch Whisky Association's decision to appeal against last month's emphatic ruling from the Court of Session is deeply disappointing.

"Their seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court is now the only stumbling block to minimum unit pricing being introduced.''

Ministers believe it is not inevitable that the appeal will proceed to the Supreme Court. Leave to appeal has to be granted by either the Court of Session or the Supreme Court itself for the case to be heard there.

"I think the SWA may want to consider that minimum unit pricing was passed with the overwhelming support of the Parliament, has been tested in Europe, and has now been approved twice in the Scottish courts,'' Ms Robison added.

"We remain determined to implement this policy as soon as possible, and we're confident that, like the Court of Session, the Supreme Court will find the policy to be lawful.''

The Scottish Government has consistently argued minimum pricing is the ''most effective mechanism'' for tackling alcohol misuse.

But the SWA claims it would be ineffective in its aims, penalise responsible drinkers, and is beyond the powers of Holyrood.

In October, the Court of Session rejected an appeal against the pricing plans which had been brought by the SWA and others.

It made the ruling after considering whether the infringement of European trade laws that minimum pricing would bring are justified by the benefits to public health - and if this could be achieved by any other means.

Another judge initially rejected the SWA's challenge at the Court of Session in 2013 but it was referred to the ECJ in Luxembourg the following year.

Last December, the ECJ ruled the plan would breach European Union law if alternative tax measures could be introduced and it referred the matter back to Scotland's courts for a final decision.