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Hammer to fall on Scottish minimum pricing

Published:  14 November, 2017

A landmark ruling in the long-running battle over minimum unit pricing (MUP) in Scotland will be made on Wednesday morning (15 November) by the UK Supreme Court.

The Scottish Parliament passed the Alcohol Minimum Pricing Bill in May 2012. It set a minimum price for a unit of alcohol at 50p.

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) immediately lodged a formal complaint with the European Commission in Brussels and filed a petition for judicial review of the legislation with the Court of Session in Edinburgh. The SWA claimed that the move breached European law.

However, the legal challenge failed as the court ruled that the move was within the power of Scottish ministers. An appeal in 2014 by the SWA to the Scottish Government’s plans saw it referred to the European Union Court of Justice.

By 2015 the European court ruled that that MUP was contrary to EU law if other tax measures existed. However, it also ruled that the decision should ultimately be made with the national court.

The controversial decision comes as a bill was presented to the Welsh Assembly last month by public health minister Rebecca Evans. If passed, the bill would enable a minimum price to be set in Wales and make it an offence for alcohol to be sold or supplied below that price.

However, it is thought that these plans were likely to be dependent on the Supreme Court ruling for Scotland.

However, GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, claimed that the move in Wales would also be subject to delays. This is because of calls from an array of MPs and healthcare professionals for the legislation to be made UK-wide.

“Despite the political will present, change may not come so easily,” Joe Hutson, consumer analyst at GlobalData, argued.

“Plans to regulate alcohol prices were first proposed in July 2015, but were ultimately shelved due to both the 2016 Welsh assembly election and the move from judges in Scotland to refer similar legislation to the Supreme Court.”