Minimum drink pricing laws appeal delayed by judge

AN attempt to block the Scottish Government’s controversial alcohol minimum pricing legislation has been delayed until the New Year.

• A judge has delayed an attempt by a leading drinks body to block the Scottish Government’s alcohol minimum pricing legislation until the New Year

• The Scotch Whisky Association set to build case based on EU ruling that says legislation defies European trade law

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• Judge says delay will allow ministers to consider newly published expert reports

The Scotch Whisky Association and European spirits and wine producers want the Court of Session in Edinburgh to rule that the plans for a 50p per unit price are unlawful.

The European Commission has already given an opinion that the legislation falls foul of EU trade law, and the SWA and partners had intended to use the opinion to support its case during a six-day hearing.

However, ministers complained to Lord Doherty that the SWA had only recently submitted new expert reports and that it would be impossible to complete the case within the allocated time. The reports challenged a study by Sheffield University on the impact on consumption and health of a minimum price for alcohol.

Aidan O’Neill, QC, for the SWA, argued that the hearing should proceed to avoid a waste of court time and money already spent in preparation. He suggested that at least some of the issues in the case be resolved.

Lord Doherty ruled that the hearing should be discharged until January, the exact date to be fixed.

“I am satisfied that the introduction of new, additonal material by (the SWA and partners) amounts to an important development of their arguments, and I accept it is in the public interest and the interests of justice that (ministers) have time to consider it and respond to it,” said the judge.

“I am not satisfied it would be appropriate or in the interests of justice to continue the hearing along the lines Mr O’Neill suggests. I cannot be confident the issues he wishes to deal with can be hived off discretely.”