Legal challenge to minimum pricing

Posted by on Jul 20, 2012 in Editorial | 2 Comments

Back in May, we wrote our latest post about minimum pricing, the day after 50p had been announced by the Scottish Government as the proposed level. In that post, we suggested the following:-

The Scottish Government has a target of doubling Scotland’s exports by 2017 – and as whisky constitutes 20% of the current figure (worth £1.8bn) – our distilleries clearly carry some weight. Many of their trade bodies are not happy with minimum pricing – the Scotch Whisky Association has consistently argued that minimum pricing is illegal under EU Trade Law. Can the government placate this key sector of Scottish Industry? Look for legal challenges to be mounted if minimum pricing becomes law.

Yesterday, this happened (from the BBC):-

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has said it will challenge legislation on a minimum price for alcohol. The SWA said it had lodged a formal complaint to the European Commission over the legislation. It also said it believed the legislation breached EU trade rules by distorting the drinks market, and that the key legal test on alcohol minimum pricing at EU level is if it is a proportionate measure – which it said the 50p rate is not.

The point of this post isn’t to pull a Nelson Muntz and say how much foresight we have – the SWA were champing at the bit to challenge this legislation as soon as it was even suggested. The interesting thing for me is that the Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon has repeatedly said the SNP administration ‘believe’ the policy complies with EU law – she said as much again yesterday:-

“We firmly believe that minimum pricing meets the legal tests required and we will vigorously defend this legal challenge, just as we did on asbestos and are doing on tobacco.”

Firstly, it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of their legal team – it sounds a bit like a suck it and see approach. Well, the SWA have puckered up. Secondly, choosing to align alcohol with the fight against smoking (Labour’s big moment) and now asbestos is interesting. This implies that alcohol is now so bad for you, merely being exposed to it involuntarily will finish you off.

Anyway, I still think it will be a long time before the 50p minimum price appears in Scotland – although, if I were a betting man – I still think it will find it’s way here.


  1. Owen
    July 20, 2012

    It’s as ringing an endorsement as she can give – no law is definite until it’s tested in court, and the softer language means that if defeated the response can be “we believed that the law supported our case, but the judge disagreed”.

  2. Richard
    July 20, 2012

    Yeah, she can’t really come out and say ‘this is the law now!’ If there’s a chance it might be overturned later, as she’d look pretty daft. There’s also a review clause built into the bill, so they can look at it after twelve months and see how effective it has been at 50p. The Government have clearly got everything covered…

Leave a Reply