The Scottish high court ruled on Friday (3 May) that the government has the right to introduce a legally binding minimum price on alcohol, the first of its kind in the EU. The spirits industry says it will appeal the court ruling.
The court refused the petition by the Scotch Whisky Association, SpiritsEurope and wine producer association CEEV, holding that the minimum pricing act was not outside the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.
The court also stated that the proposed order setting a minimum price per unit of alcohol was within devolved competence and within the powers of Scottish ministers.
Scottish Health Secretary Alex Neil hailed the decision, saying: "We have always believed minimum unit pricing is the right thing to do to tackle Scotland’s problematic relationship with alcohol."
"Minimum unit pricing will target cheap alcohol relative to strength that is favoured by hazardous and harmful drinkers and which contributes to much of the alcohol-related harm we see in Scotland," Neil said in a statement.
In May 2012, the Scottish Parliament passed legislation to introduce a minimum pricing for alcohol that was originally due to come into force in Scotland in 2013.
However, it has been put on hold as the measure was legally challenged by the Scottish Whisky Association and the European wine and spirits producers.
The alcohol industry said it would appeal the court decision.
"We are disappointed by this decision and will appeal it, believing that it contravenes not only 30 years of European case law on minimum unit pricing but also the views expressed by the European Commission and 11 member states," said Paul Skehan, director general of SpiritsEurope, a trade group.
Skehan added that the spirits industry was confident that, on appeal, the measure will be proven illegal and contrary to the rules underpinning the single European market.
"We are surprised that the court decided it was unnecessary to refer any question of EU law to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling, considering the existing legal background," Skehan added.
Not only does the industry believe the policy to be illegal, it also expects it to be ineffective in tackling alcohol misuse, penalise responsible drinkers and put more pressure on household budgets and discriminate companies within the market.
Health campaigners applauded the court ruling. The European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) said the minimum pricing would reduce binge drinking in Scotland, and to have a positive impact on the region’s health and crime levels.
"This move by the Scottish high court is a recognition of the baseless – and undemocratic – attempt by the alcohol industry to prevent an elected government from protecting the health of its population," EPHA Secreary-General Monika Kosi?ska said.
"It is heartening to see the Scottish government prevail in this landmark case, and hopefully the alcohol industry will refrain from wasting more taxpayers money in delaying this process further," Kosi?ska said.