Last updated:

Minimum unit pricing left to the Scots

Peter Bennie portrait serious

A ruling that minimum unit pricing for alcohol would not breach European law has been welcomed by the BMA today.

The European Court of Justice has ruled that it is up to the Scottish courts to decide whether other measures — such as taxation — could protect human life and health as effectively as MUP (minimum unit pricing), while being less restrictive to trade.

This means that the Court of Session in Edinburgh will now decide whether the Scottish legislation — passed in 2012 — can be lawfully implemented.

The association also called for the legislation to be implemented as soon as possible. 

BMA Scotland council chair Peter Bennie (pictured) said that every year of delay in introducing the legislation costs lives.

‘The case for MUP has always been based on the fact that it achieves what taxation cannot when it comes to reducing the harm caused by alcohol.

'So the decision of the European Court setting out the test that must be applied to the policy is a welcome one,’ he said.

‘Today’s ruling returns the case to the Scottish courts and puts Scotland a step closer to implementing minimum pricing.’


Long delay

Dr Bennie pointed out that the Scottish Parliament first legislated for minimum pricing in 2012 and that it had still not been implemented as 2016 approaches.

‘Last year saw an increase in the volume of alcohol sales and the number of alcohol-related deaths,’ he said.

‘The need to implement MUP remains as pressing as ever and those who have sought to delay it in the courts have failed to act in the public interest.’

Health, well-being and sport secretary Shona Robison said: 'This ruling from the European Court of Justice indicates, importantly, that it will be for the domestic courts to take a final decision on MUP.

'While we must await the final outcome of this legal process, the Scottish Government remains certain that MUP is the right measure for Scotland.

'We believe it is the most effective mechanism for tackling alcohol misuse and reducing the harm that cheap, high-strength alcohol causes our communities.'


Concerns scotched

The Scotch Whisky Association, which represents the industry, had challenged the legislation, saying that it was not proportionate and that it would restrict trade.

It also welcomed today’s ruling, with chief executive David Frost saying that it ‘settles EU law issues once and for all’.

‘The court has confirmed that MUP is a restriction on trade, and that it is illegal to choose [it] where there are less restrictive ways of achieving the same end.

‘The Scottish courts will now reflect on the implications of the ruling and all the evidence, before issuing a final judgement.’

However, Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems director Eric Carlin, which represents medical professionals, said: ‘We hope that the Scottish courts will now move quickly to gather evidence to conclude this case and that the Scottish Government will implement this key policy without delay.’