Flagship Scottish Government plans to introduce a minimum price for alcohol face a delay of up to two years after it was confirmed that a legal challenge is to go before the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.
The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) is challenging the judgement on the basis that it is uncompetitive and would damage the industry.
Health secretary Alex Neil today said he “regretted” the prospect of a delay, after the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled that the Luxembourg court should decide on the issue.
The average length of a case going through the European Court of Justice was about 16 months in 2002. But a ruling could then result in the Scottish Government or the SWA appealing to the UK Supreme in London which could take several months more.
Mr Neil is in Brussels today meeting organisations to promote the case for minimum pricing which is aimed at tackling Scotland’s chronic problems with alcohol by driving down the cost of cheap ciders and lagers.
He said: “While it is regrettable that this means we will not be able to implement minimum unit pricing sooner, we will continue our ongoing and productive dialogue with EU officials.”
SWA chief executive David Frost said: “We are pleased that the Court of Session in Edinburgh is referring the minimum unit pricing (MUP) case to the Court of Justice of the European Union. From the outset we said that we believed MUP was contrary to European Union law and that it was likely in the end to go to the European Court.”