Court of Session backs minimum alcohol price

Scotland’s Court of Session — the country’s highest civil court — has given its approval to the Scottish Government plans to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol.

The court rejected the legal challenge from the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), ruling for the second time that the policy is lawful.

A minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol would be set under the plans — meaning a bottle of spirits would cost at least £14, the cheapest bottle of wine would be £4.69, and a four-pack of 500ml cans of 4% lager would cost at least £4.

David Frost, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, said: “We will study the details of the judgement and consult our members before deciding on next steps, including any possible appeal to the UK Supreme Court.”

Frost added: “We regret the Court of Session’s ruling in favour of the Scottish Government on minimum unit pricing (MUP).

“We continue to believe that MUP is a restriction on trade and that there are more effective ways of tackling alcohol misuse.

“However, we of course remain committed to working with all partners to address this problem so that the long-term trend of declining alcohol-related harm in Scotland continues.”

The Scottish Government called on the SWA and others in the drinks industry who have been behind the legal challenge to respect the democratic will of the Scottish Parliament – and to respect the judgement of the highest court in Scotland.

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.

“This policy was passed by the Scottish Parliament unopposed more than four years ago.

“In that time, the democratic will of our national parliament has been thwarted by this ongoing legal challenge, while many people in Scotland have continued to die from the effects of alcohol misuse.

“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.”

Campbell said minimum unit pricing is the most proportionate and effective way to reduce the harm caused by cheap, high strength alcohol.

“We have always been convinced that this policy will save the lives of many of the people who die each year from alcohol. Recently we have seen the publication of yet more statistics which show that alcohol related deaths remain unacceptably high,” she added.

“I’m proud that Scotland has led the way on this public health measure, which other countries are also interested in pursuing, and who will also be welcoming today’s court ruling.

“Minimum unit pricing was passed overwhelmingly by the Scottish Parliament, and has the strong backing of those who work daily with people affected by alcohol.

“That is the backdrop against which we have so staunchly defended this policy throughout this legal challenge.

“Minimum unit pricing is only one of the measures we are implementing to reduce alcohol-related harm. We have a well-regarded alcohol strategy and as part of this we will be introducing a refreshed Alcohol Framework in the near future.”