Supreme Court backs minimum unit pricing in Scotland

The UK Supreme Court has unanimously dismissed an appeal by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) against minimum unit pricing of alcohol.

This means it has rejected the remaining ground of challenge from the SWA which argued that MUP restricts the free movement of goods and is disproportionate under EU law.

Seven Supreme Court judges ruled the measure was “appropriately targeted, lawful and a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.”

The judgment shows that the Supreme Court rejected the claim that less restrictive measures (duty, VAT) could be used to achieve the same outcome.

After the Supreme Court verdict Scotland will be the first country in the world to establish a 50p-per-unit minimum on any alcohol sold in an attempt tackle alcohol misuse.

The ruling said the aim of MUP is “to strike at alcohol misuse and over consumption…in the health and social problems suffered by those in poverty.”

It said: “minimum pricing targets cheap alcohol and the groups most affected in a way that an increase in excise or VAT does not”, claiming it is “easier to understand and simpler to enforce.”

The judges noted that MUP will be experimental. The provisional nature of MUP - as indicated by the Sunset Clause – and the requirement to review the effectiveness of MUP against the aims of the legislation were a significant factor in the Court’s judgment. 

Miles Beale Chief Executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association said:

“We accept the UK Supreme Court’s ruling on Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) in Scotland.

The WSTA remains committed to working with the Scottish Government – and all UK governments – on policies that have already proved effective, like partnership solutions that are locally-targeted, promote alcohol education and better enforce existing regulations.

We look to the Scottish Government to provide clarity to businesses on how Minimum Unit Pricing will be implemented and to give them sufficient time to do so as efficiently as possible. Equally, MUP’s impact on businesses and on all consumers must be rigorously and objectively monitored and evaluated over time.”

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