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Fresh evidence in legal challenge to minimum alcohol pricing

Judges to convene at the Court of Session this week after consulting European Court of Justice.

Alcohol: Scottish Government wants to introduce minimum unit price of 50p.
Alcohol: Scottish Government wants to introduce minimum unit price of 50p. © HEMEDIA / SWNS Group

A legal challenge to the Scottish Government's plan for a minimum alcohol price is due to return to Scotland's highest civil court this week.

Judges at the Court of Session in Edinburgh will hear further evidence after seeking the opinion of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg on legislation to introduce a minimum unit price of 50p in Scotland.

MSPs backed the move at Holyrood in 2012 but implementation stalled after the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) and other European wine and spirits producers took legal action, arguing minimum pricing would breach European law.

Judge Lord Doherty initially rejected the challenge at the Court of Session in 2013 but it was referred to the ECJ the following year after an appeal hearing.

Last December, an ECJ ruling said the plan would breach European Union law if alternative tax measures could be introduced.

The court concluded a tax rise on alcoholic drinks "is liable to be less restrictive of trade" than minimum pricing.

The ECJ said it would be for the Court of Session to make a final decision after determining whether or not any alternative measure could equal the stated public health benefit while being less restrictive of trade.

Speaking before the hearing, SWA spokesman Graeme Littlejohn said: "Everyone agrees more needs to be done to tackle alcohol misuse but minimum pricing is not the answer.

"The European Court of Justice's recent ruling made it clear that minimum pricing is a significant barrier to trade in breach of EU law.

"It will not tackle alcohol-related harm effectively, with the evidence being that it will not reduce the number of hazardous or harmful drinkers."

Meanwhile, Alcohol Focus Scotland published figures showing shoppers can buy the weekly limit of 14 units of alcohol for just £2.52.

Research at supermarket and off-licences in Edinburgh and Glasgow found cider on sale at 18p per unit, vodka at 36p per unit, lager at 26p per unit and wine at 32p per unit.

Chief executive Alison Douglas said: "It is ridiculous that a toxic, carcinogenic product which causes so much harm can be sold so cheaply.

"The more affordable alcohol is, the more we drink and this means more alcohol-related hospital admissions, crime and deaths.

"A 50p minimum unit price is the most effective way to raise the price of the cheapest, strongest drinks which cause the most harm in Scotland."

Health secretary Shona Robison said: "These findings from Alcohol Focus Scotland further add to the evidence of the wide availability of cheap alcohol across Scotland.

"We believe that affordability is a key factor in alcohol-related harm. That's why minimum-unit pricing is such an important part of our package of measures to tackle the availability of cheap, high-strength alcohol that causes so much damage in our communities.

"We look forward to being able to continue making our case in the Scottish courts this week."

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