THE Scotch Whisky Association was last night coming under increasing pressure to end its legal action against the Scottish Government’s plans to introduce minimum unit pricing of alcohol, following the Court of Session’s decision to reject the Association’s appeal against the law.
The country’s most senior judge, Lord Carloway, the Lord President of the Court of Session, delivered a 29,000-word judgment that demolished the Association’s contention that other measures such as taxation should be used.
Pointing out that the UK Government controlled alcohol taxation, Lord Carloway 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.
Loading article content
“Current EU tax arrangements related to different types of product (wine, spirits, beer and cider etc) each of which had a range of alcohol strength ... there was evidence that demonstrated that the alternative of increased tax, with or without a prohibition on below-cost sales, would be less effective than minimum pricing.”
The Scottish Parliament overwhelmingly passed legislation to set a minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol in April 2012. Under the law, a price of 50p per unit of alcohol would be set, taking a bottle of spirits to a price of at least £14 but having a relatively greater effect on the price of strong cider and cheap wine, which has been blamed for much of Scotland’s alcohol problems.
The implementation of the law was delayed by a consortium of global alcohol producers, led by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), who said it was against European trade laws. They lost their first appeal against the law in the Court of Session and went to the European Court of Justice, which sent the case back to Scotland’s top judges to rule on. They have now backed the original judgment that MUP is lawful.
After the judgment was released, SWA chief executive David Frost said the body would consider a final appeal to the Supreme Court in London.
He said: “We regret the Court of Session’s ruling in favour of the Scottish Government on MUP. We continue to believe that MUP is a restriction on trade and there are more effective ways of tackling alcohol misuse.
“We will study the details of the judgment and consult our members before deciding on next steps, including any possible appeal to the UK Supreme Court.”
Aileen Campbell, Minister for Public Health and Sport, said: “I am delighted that the highest court in Scotland has reinforced the initial judgment in our favour from 2013. This follows the opinion of the European Court of Justice, which ruled that it was for our domestic courts to make a final judgment on the scheme.
“The Scotch Whisky Association represents some of Scotland’s finest whisky brands, and while they were entitled to raise this action, they and the wider drinks 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.
“Today’s ruling is a landmark one, and should mark the end of the legal process, allowing this important policy to finally be brought forward.”
Alison Johnstone, MSP, health spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, said: “The big drinks firms stalling this sensible piece of public health legislation are copying the historic behaviour of the tobacco industry.
“Let’s hope the SWA gets the message and allows the Scottish Government to get on and implement this urgent public health priority.”
Dr Miles Mack, chairman of The Royal College of General Practitioners Scotland, said: “Just as patients must sometimes come to terms with their drinking habits, the drinks industry must today come to terms with the will of Scotland’s Parliament and courts. It will be seen in a stronger and more positive light if it does.”
Gregor McNie, Cancer Research UK’s senior public affairs manager in Scotland, said: “Alcohol is linked to seven types of cancer including breast and bowel cancer, and the more you drink the greater your risk of cancer. We now call for the SWA to step aside and allow this life-saving measure to go ahead.”
Eric Carlin, Director of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems, said: “This was never about Scotch Whisky; so-called ‘quality’ whisky brands are unaffected by MUP.
“We now urge the Scotch Whisky Association to respect the decision of the Scottish court and consider this matter closed.
“The global alcohol industry’s actions in Scotland have delayed a measure that could have significantly reduced alcohol-related harm and saved thousands of lives over the last four years.”