Judges to announce ruling on Scottish minimum alcohol price

A judgement is expected this morning on whether the Scottish Government's legislation to raise the minimum price of alcohol can be introduced in Scotland.

Alcohol on sale in Scotland. Picture: John Devlin
Alcohol on sale in Scotland. Picture: John Devlin

The Court of Session is expected to rule on a challenge, under European trade law, which has been pursued by the whisky industry.

The law on minimum pricing of alcohol was passed by MSPs in 2012.

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At 50p per unit, it would mean a bottle of spirits would cost at least £14 and cheap, strong cider could double in price.

The Scottish government, health professionals, police, alcohol charities and some members of the drinks industry believe minimum pricing would help address Scotland’s “unhealthy relationship with drink”.

Challenge possible

But the Scotch Whisky Association and wine makers brought a challenge under European law.

After one ruling by the Court of Session and a referral to the European Court of Justice, the question now is whether the infringement of trade law is justified by the benefits to public health, and if there is another way those benefits could be achieved.

The judgement could be challenged by either side in the UK Supreme Court.

But if it is not, and the Scottish government wins, the introduction of minimum pricing is at least six months away.

Under the plans, the cheapest bottle of wine (9.4 units of alcohol) would be £4.69, a four-pack of 500ml cans of 4% lager would cost at least £4 and a 70cl bottle of whisky could not be sold for less than £14.

The SWA has argued minimum pricing would discriminate against poorer drinkers, and was beyond the power of the Scottish government.

The government’s chief medical officer recommends the maximum weekly intake of alcohol is 14 units for both men and women.