The legislation was passed in Scotland in 2012 which set a minimum unit price of alcohol at 50p. It has now been stated in an official opinion by the European Court that it would be legal if it could be shown no other mechanism could deliver the desired public health benefits. The opinion has been welcomed by Scotland’s First Minister, who has said it confirms that minimum unit pricing was not precluded by EU law. The Scottish Government has argued for some time that minimum pricing is vital to address Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with a drink but has been unable to implement a minimum pricing policy whilst this legal process remains ongoing.
The opinion of the European Court states that minimum unit pricing risks infringing the principle of the free movement of goods and would only be legal if it can be shown that no other mechanism is capable of achieving the desired result of protecting public health. They state that member states can choose rules imposing a minimum retail price of alcoholic beverages which restrict trade within the European Union and distort competition, rather than increase taxation of those products, only on condition that it shows that the measure chosen presents additional advantages or fewer disadvantages by comparison with the alternative measure.
It is expected that the European Court will take up to six months to issue its final ruling before the case can be referred back to the Court of Session in Edinburgh.
The Scotch Whisky Association has also welcomed the opinion, stating that the opinion encourages them in their long-held view that minimum unit pricing is illegal when there are less trade restrictive measures available.
For further information, please contact Andrew Cochrane.