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Scottish Court allows Alcohol Focus Scotland to intervene in legal challenge to minimum pricing

The Institute of Alcohol Studies welcomes today’s ruling to grant Scotland’s national alcohol charity permission to intervene in a legal challenge to the Scottish Minimum Pricing Bill. This ruling will allow Alcohol Focus Scotland to present evidence on the public health benefits of minimum pricing during a judicial review of the Scottish legislation.

The Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act was passed in June 2012, paving the way for a preferred minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol in Scotland. However, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has submitted a petition to the Scottish Court of Session seeking a judicial review of the legislation. The SWA is supported in its legal challenge by two European drinks industry bodies, representing global alcohol corporations such as Diageo, Pernod-Ricard and Bacardi-Martini.

Alcohol Focus Scotland (AFS) applied for leave to intervene in the judicial review as a ‘public interest body’, which would enable the charity to present evidence on the public health arguments for minimum pricing when the case comes to court. The SWA opposed this application, however in a court ruling today, AFS was granted permission to intervene.

IAS Director of Policy, Katherine Brown said:

“This is a triumph for public health. It is crucial that the Scottish Courts are presented with well-balanced evidence when reviewing the challenge to minimum pricing.

“Like many global alcohol producers, the Scotch Whisky Association has criticised the robust, peer-reviewed research that supports minimum pricing. This is unsurprising, given the SWA’s profit motives, however such bias must not be allowed to influence decisions that affect public health.”

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance said:

“The Scottish Courts have acted in the interests of fairness by allowing Alcohol Focus Scotland the opportunity to present a full and proper case on the public health benefits of minimum pricing. It is essential that the evidence to support this policy is not misrepresented in any way by commercial actors that have a vested interest in preventing its implementation.

“Minimum pricing is a proportionate response to a public health need. It will target the cheapest alcohol that causes the most harm and has the potential to make a real difference in Scotland.

“Allowing Alcohol Focus Scotland to intervene in this legal challenge will hopefully ensure that profit motives do not supersede public health when it comes to alcohol policy.”

The outcome of the legal challenge to minimum unit pricing will have an impact both in Scotland and throughout the European Union. The Coalition Government’s Alcohol Strategy has set out proposals to introduce the policy in England and Wales and a consultation was held in Northern Ireland earlier this year to seek views on its introduction.


Notes to Editors

  1. The legal challenge to minimum pricing is being led by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) and refers to the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Health/Services/Alcohol/minimum-pricing. The Scottish Government proposes to set the minimum price per unit of alcohol at 50p.
  1. Research by the University of Sheffield estimates that the proposed minimum price of 50p per unit would result in the following benefits in Scotland: http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/scharr/sections/ph/research/alpol/publications

a.    Alcohol related deaths would fall by about 60 in the first year and 318 by year ten of the policy.

b.    A fall in hospital admission of 1,600 in year 1, and 6,500 per year by year ten of the policy.

c.     A fall in crime volumes by around 3,500 offences per year.

d.    A financial saving from harm reduction (health, employment, crime etc.) of £942m over ten years.

  1. The Scotch Whisky Association states that it represents the interests of the whisky industry in Scotland. The bulk of the whisky industry in Scotland is owned by foreign companies or by large multi-nationals. Diageo, which owns around a third of distilleries in Scotland, reported operating profits last year of £3.2 billion. Only around 20% of Scotland's distilleries are run by smaller independent operators. The SWA is being supported in their legal challenge by the European Spirits Organisation (CEPS), a representative body for producers of spirit drinks in Europe: http://www.europeanspirits.org/ and  Comité Européen des Entreprises Vins (CEEV), a representative body of the EU industry and trade in wines: http://www.ceev.be/index_en.html.
  1. Third party interventions are permitted in petitions of judicial review if the issue is considered a matter of public interest. Any of the parties to a case can oppose an application to intervene, but it is up to the court to grant permission to intervene and the court may do so in the face of opposition from one or other of the parties. An intervention is by way of a written submission of 5000 words. The court may allow oral submissions in exceptional circumstances. This procedure is widely used in judicial review cases elsewhere, including England and Wales. It is believed that the Alcohol Focus Scotland application is the first public interest intervention to be allowed in the Scottish courts.
  1. Alcohol Focus Scotland was granted a protective expenses order by the court in this case. This means that Alcohol Focus Scotland's expenses are limited to covering its own costs in making the intervention – mainly paying for legal representation. Despite opposing Alcohol Focus Scotland’s request for a protective expenses order, the alcohol industry petitioners will not be able to seek costs from AFS to cover their legal expenses should the petitioners succeed in their challenge.