As anticipated the European Court of Justice has now released its decision regarding minimum unit pricing in Scotland. In line with Advocate General Bot’s indication, they have decided that the Scottish Government’s proposal for minimum unit pricing of alcohol is contrary to European Law when other tax options are available. Their recommendation is that rather than introducing a minimum unit price alternative tax measures should be explored. Their view was that the effects of the Scottish Legislation were to significantly restrict the market but that this may be avoided by the introduction of a tax measure designed to increase the price of alcohol instead of a measure imposing a minimum price per unit. The case will now be referred back to the Court of Session in Edinburgh.
The European Court of Justice has said that a fiscal measure increasing the taxation of alcoholic drinks is liable to be less restrictive than minimum pricing.
In their ruling, the Judges concluded that a minimum price would constitute an obstacle to the free movement of goods, but that such a measure may be justified on health protection grounds only if it is proportionate to the objective pursued.
The Scottish Government wanted to introduce minimum pricing as a way of combating excessive drinking and alcohol-related health issues in Scotland. The difficult Scotland have with this decision is that Holyrood does not have the power to raise taxes on alcohol as this is an ability reserved for Westminster alone.
For further information, please contact Andrew Cochrane.