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Minimum Unit Pricing declared legal

Today the UK Supreme Court delivered the final verdict on Scotland's long running legal challenge to introducing Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP), rejecting the appeal made by Scotch Whisky Association.

The Scottish Government first passed legislation in 2012 but a number of industry bodies spearheaded by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) forced a series of challenges under EU which some public health figures have described as 'delaying tactics'.

As reported in Alcohol Policy UK, the legal challenge rested on the argument that MUP contravened EU competition law, arguing instead that taxation would be a more appropriate means of achieving its aims.

However the Supreme Court agreed with public health advocates that this was not the case and health objectives and the free market were "two incomparable values", declaring MUP a "proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim". The court also rejected the appeal's claim that the Scottish Government should have committed to going further in assessing market impact as unreasonable, acknowledging its commitments to evaluating the impacts and the five year sunset clause. 

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted:

Public health groups and academics involved in MUP work took to Twitter to express relief and comment on the judgement and next steps. Responding to the UK Supreme Court judgment that minimum unit pricing is legal, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, said:

“We are delighted with the Supreme Court’s judgement that minimum unit pricing is legal and can be implemented in Scotland. The decision today represents a great victory for the health of the public.

“Five years ago the legislation introducing MUP passed through the Scottish Parliament without opposition. It has taken five years to implement for the simple reason that the Scottish Whisky Association and others chose to challenge it in the courts. In that time many families have needlessly suffered the pain and heartache of losing a loved one.

“This decision has implications far beyond Scotland. Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are now clear to progress their own plans for minimum unit pricing.

“The spotlight should now fall on England, where cheap alcohol is also causing considerable damage. Over 23,000 people in England die every year from alcohol-related causes, many of them coming from the poorest and most vulnerable sections of society. We urge the Westminster Government to act now and introduce the measure in England. A failure to do so will needlessly cost more lives.”

The SWA have issued a brief statement on the decision whilst a Spectator article by veteran 'anti-nanny state' commentator Christopher Snowden says MUP 'won't end alcoholism'. However James Nicholls suggested this was a 'straw man' argument and has written a response to the ruling outlining MUPs aims and key considerations. The news has also appeared in the media including the BBCTelegraphThe Scotsman and Guardian, with further coverage and comment likely throughout the week.

Katherine Brown, Chief Executive of the Institute of Alcohol Studies said: