Alcohol minimum pricing: SNP alcohol policy faces legal challenge from whisky industry
THE Scottish Government’s flagship proposal to introduce a minimum price for alcohol is to face a legal challenge from the drinks industry.
A package of measures is expected to be outlined by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) today aimed at opposing the plans and will include legal action.
The Scottish Government wants a minimum price of 50p a unit and MSPs have already passed legislation clearing the way for this.
Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon says the measures are needed to address Scotland’s chronic alcohol problem. But drinks industry leaders have warned the measure falls foul of European Union competition law and believe a legal challenge is likely to succeed.
The SWA yesterday refused to comment on the package which will be set out today by chief executive Gavin Hewitt, saying only that it will take its opposition to the “next stage”.
But sources in the whisky industry say the plans include a legal challenge.
Gavin Partington, of the Wine and Spirits Trade Association (WSTA), said: “We are working together with the SWA and other trade bodies at a European level to actually spread news about what’s happening in Scotland and to communicate to other trade associations about what the Scottish Government has legislated for. There is a widespread agreement around this issue.”
He added: “It’s highly likely that there will be this legal challenge [and] that that legal challenge is likely to be successful.”
Minimum pricing is not universally opposed by the drinks industry, with the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) having spoken out in its favour. It has also won support from medical and police chiefs.
The Scottish Government has agreed to lodge an official “notification” with the EU on the proposals to seek a ruling on whether they comply with treaty law aimed at protecting trade from government interference.
Ms Sturgeon insists the bill is “perfectly capable of complying with EU law” and told MSPs this year that the measure is not “state aid”. Although it would apply across the board, there is a danger that it could see significantly more importers than native producers affected, prompting claims of protectionism.
Jim McLean, from the Law Society of Scotland, told Holyrood’s health and sport committee earlier this year that an EU ruling would not be a “definitive answer” on the matter.
“Ultimately, it would take litigation to get an absolute 100 per cent definite view,” he warned.
EU law does allow for minimum pricing if it can be shown that it will protect health and there is no alternative.
The European Court of Justice could deal with the issue, but it prefers that national courts resolve such matters.
A legal challenge could also end up in the UK Supreme Court which has clashed with Scottish ministers in the past year, amid claims it has interfered with Scotland’s legal system. Alex Salmond hit out after several high-profile decisions, in which appeals in Scots criminal cases have been heard by the Supreme Court on human rights grounds.
The First Minister even launched an attack on Scottish Supreme Court judge, Lord Hope, saying the political consequences of his judgments were “extreme”.
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Tuesday 18 June 2013
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