Top UK court backs Scottish minimum drink price law

2017-11-16 08:29


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Edinburgh - Britain's top court on Wednesday supported the Scottish government's innovative plan to stop people "drinking themselves to death" by imposing a minimum price on alcohol.

Scottish lawmakers want to set a price of at least 50 pence per 10ml of pure alcohol in a beverage, a volume known as a "unit" in Britain, the first time such a policy has been tried anywhere in the world.

Improve public health

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) - backed by spiritsEUROPE and wine industry representatives CEEV - asked the Supreme Court in London to strike down the Scottish government's plan.

But seven Supreme Court justices in London dismissed the SWA's contention, ruling unanimously that such pricing is "a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim" and does not breach EU law.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who devised the plan in 2009 when she was health minister, said she was "absolutely delighted".

"This has been a long road, and no doubt the policy will continue to have its critics, but it is a bold and necessary move to improve public health," she said.

The ruling brings to an end a five year legal battle which went all the way to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in 2015. Judges there ruled that mimimum unit pricing would breach EU trading rules if alternative tax measures could be introduced.

Scotland's semi-autonomous government cannot vary tax on alcohol, as this power is held by the British government in London, but it can regulate the retail sector north of the border.

Hospital admissions

Scotland already has some of the toughest alcohol laws in Britain, including a ban on multibuy deals such as buy-one-get-one-free in supermarkets and "happy hours" in pubs.

In 2014 it introduced the lowest drink driving limit in Britain, slashing the previous limit by over a third.

There were 1 265 alcohol-related deaths in 2016 in Scotland, a 10% increase on the previous year in a nation of 5.3 million people.

Sheffield University has suggested the policy could lead to 121 fewer deaths and 2 000 fewer hospital admissions a year.

Read more on:    scotland  |  health

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