The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has been given the green light to take its appeal against minimum pricing for alcohol in Scotland to the UK’s highest court.
The Court of Session in Edinburgh has granted the SWA permission to take its fight against the Scottish Government’s minimum unit pricing (MUP) plans all the way to the London-based Supreme Court.
It comes after the Court of Session - Scotland’s top civil court - rejected the SWA’s appeal against the measure in October.
The move is the latest step in an extended legal wrangle over the proposals, which has delayed implementation of a policy aimed at tackling Scotland’s drink problem.
The SWA wants to stop ministers going ahead with their plans and believes that MUP is incompatible with EU law.
SWA acting chief executive Julie Hesketh-Laird said: “We now hope the appeal can be heard quickly by the Supreme Court, with a final ruling next year.”
She has previously insisted the SWA’s intention to continue the legal challenge was not taken lightly and followed wide consultation. She has also described the proposed measure as likely to be “ineffective”.
But Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said it is time for the SWA to give up the fight, which has previously gone as far as the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
“It is so frustrating that the Scotch Whisky Association will not accept that this is the end of the road for their misguided and damaging legal action,” she said.
“In the four-and-a-half years since the Scottish Parliament voted overwhelmingly to pass minimum unit pricing, at least 4,500 Scots have died of alcohol-related diseases.
“We know that the heaviest drinkers buy the cheapest, strongest alcohol and that’s why minimum pricing is such an effective policy; it targets the drinks and drinkers causing the most harm with minimal impact on moderate drinkers.”
A spokesman for the Judicial Office for Scotland said on Wednesday: “Following a hearing today, the Inner House of the Court of Session granted an application by the Scotch Whisky Association for permission to appeal to the UK Supreme Court. Written reasons for the decision will be published in due course.”
The hearing could take place in the first half of next year.
A spokeswoman for the UK Supreme Court said: “In terms of the time-frame for this appeal, if the SWA requests expedition, and the justices approve this, then I would envisage that the court would hear the appeal in the first half of 2017.”