A NEW legal challenge to the Scottish Government’s drive to ban the open display of cigarettes in shops will be heard by the UK’s highest court in November.
• Holyrood backed measures aimed at reducing smoking rate among young people
• Tobacco firm takes legal challenge to Supreme Court
Imperial Tobacco’s case will be argued before judges at the Supreme Court in London over four days.
It comes after an appeal by the tobacco giant, centred around legislation passed at Holyrood, was dismissed by senior judges at the Court of Session in Edinburgh earlier this year.
The firm’s civil action, which also opposed a ban on tobacco vending machines, has delayed the implementation of the SNP administration’s measures, which are aimed at stopping young people from taking up smoking.
Imperial believes there is no credible evidence that display bans have cut tobacco consumption. Ministers argue the move is needed to protect future generations from the “devastating effects” of smoking.
The Scottish Parliament backed the measures in the Tobacco and Primary Medical Services (Scotland) Act in January 2010 and it was granted Royal Assent two months later.
Bristol-based Imperial went to court in Scotland, seeking a judicial review to try to overturn the plans, claiming they fell outside the legislative scope of Holyrood. A judge rejected the firm’s arguments in September 2010.
Imperial, one of the world’s largest tobacco companies and the firm behind the Lambert & Butler and Richmond cigarette brands, appealed against that decision but its case was unanimously rejected by three judges in Edinburgh on February 2 this year.
The decision was welcomed by Scotland’s public health minister Michael Matheson, who said the proposals would play a “crucial role” in preventing youngsters from starting to smoke. Ministers pointed to figures suggesting 15,000 children and young people begin smoking in Scotland each year.
But the tobacco firm voiced disappointment at the ruling and subsequently launched appeal proceedings at the London-based court.
The latest chapter will now come before five Supreme Court judges on Monday November 12 and the legal debate is scheduled to run until Thursday November 15.
It will look at whether the prohibition of tobacco displays and vending machines falls within the jurisdiction of the Scottish Parliament. In particular, the judges will have to determine whether sections one and nine of the 2010 Act are outside the legislative competence of Holyrood.
The case will be heard by Scottish judge Lord Hope, sitting with Lord Walker, Lady Hale, Lord Kerr and Lord Sumption, a court spokesman confirmed.
A spokesman for Imperial Tobacco said: “We cannot comment on an ongoing legal process but our position on the issue of display bans remains clear.
“There is no credible evidence that display bans have reduced tobacco consumption or youth smoking in the few countries where they’ve been introduced.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “In the face of tobacco industry challenges to the Act, we will continue to defend the legislation.”
Legal challenges have meant ministers have not yet been able to set a date for the bans to be brought in. They had planned to introduce the display ban in April this year in large shops but that is now on hold.
Scotland was the first part of the UK to adopt a ban on smoking in public places.