Today the UK Supreme Court has ruled that Scottish Government can set a minimum price for alcohol, rejecting a challenge by the Scotch Whisky Association and others that it did not comply with European Union law. The judgment is available here.
In an attempt to reduce both the harm to health and the social consequences arising from the consumption of cheap high strength alcohol, the Scottish Parliament passed The Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012 . This has been the subject proceeding in the Scottish, European Union and United Kingdom courts since 2012.
Further background to the case is available from the UK Supreme Court here and from the Scottish Government here.
Tomorrow (Friday 31st March 2017) the Aberdeen law project will hold a seminar to discuss Brexit and how it will affect smaller organisations and charities. There will be a Q & A session with lecturer Dr. Justin Borg-Barthet.
If you would like to attend, email firstname.lastname@example.org with the number of people and any advance questions you wish to put to Dr Borg-Barthet.
The event will run from 4pm – 5:30pm and will be held in New Kings Room 1.
The Scottish Government has published a paper detailing “proposals to keep Scotland in the European Single Market, retain freedom of movement, and to equip the Scottish Parliament with the powers it needs to serve Scotland’s interests post-Brexit” as explained on the Scottish Government website. You can read the full paper in html or pdf formats by following the appropriate links on this page . There is a link to the pdf at the end of this post.
This is what the Supreme Court will be considering today in a case expected to last 4 days. Follow it live here.
The case is about prerogative powers, defined by the High Court in the original case as “the residue of legal authority left in the hands of the Crown” however as the UK has a sovereign parliament it is argued that prerogative powers cannot be used to overrule legislation. The government argues, however, in does have the prerogative power to “make and unmake treaties” allowing it to launch the process without requiring an Act of Parliament.
The Scottish Government is also involved in this case. The Lord Advocate’s intervention proposes that triggering article 50 requires an Act of the UK Parliament and as a result requires a Legislative Consent Motion of the Scottish Parliament as matters devolved to them are involved.
The Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) produces research briefings on a wide range of issues. Intended to assist MSPs in their parliamentary work by providing relevant up-to-date impartial background material the briefing papers are useful to anyone starting to research a current issue.
In a statement the Scottish Government has welcomed the ruling of the 21st of October 2016 by the Court of Session, confirming their previous ruling, that the Scottish Government’s intention to introduce minimum unit pricing for alcohol is legal (Scotch Whisky Association v Lord Advocate  CSIH 77).
In 2012 the Scottish Government passed legislation to introduce minimum pricing unit pricing for alcohol as part of its strategy to reduce alcohol consumption and the harm associated with over consumption. The minimum unit price was set at 50p.
The Scotch Whisky Association challenged the legality of this. (The Scotch Whisky Association v Lord Advocate 2013 S.L.T. 776). This legal bid was rejected. However, this decision has been appealed on the grounds that it breaches EU law as it would be a barrier to the free movement of goods. The Court of Session made a request for a preliminary ruling from the European Court of Justice in July 2014.
UPDATE: On the 3rd of September 2015 the Advocate General issued his opinion that minimum unit pricing would only be legal under EU law if it could be shown that there is no other mechanism available to the Scottish Government that could achieve their desired public health benefits. Advocate General Bot also set out tests that national courts would have to apply when making their decision. Advocate General Bot’s opinion can be read in full here:
LATEST UPDATE: A press release on the judgement of the Court of Justice on 23rd December 2015 states that the Court “considers that the effect of the Scottish legislation is significantly to restrict the market, and this might be avoided by the introduction of a tax measure designed to increase the price of alcohol instead of a measure imposing a minimum price per unit of alcohol”
In her response to the ruling, Shona Robison, the Scottish Government Health Secretary said:
“Scottish Government remains certain that minimum unit pricing is the right measure for Scotland. We believe it is the most effective mechanism for tackling alcohol misuse and reducing the harm that cheap, high-strength alcohol causes our communities”
The Scottish Whisky Association’s chief executive stated:
“The Court has confirmed that minimum unit pricing (MUP) is a restriction on trade, and that it is illegal to choose MUP where there are less restrictive ways of achieving the same end.”
Click here for more from the Scotch Whisky Association.
This ruling by the Court of Justice does not end the case. The Court of Session asked for this ruling on the interpretation of European Law to help them come to a decision. The case now goes back to the Court of Session to consider this ruling along with all the evidence.
A free public lecture on Scotland’s options for Brexit, hosted by the School of Law, will take place at the University’s Regent Lecture Theatre from 6pm to 8pm this evening. Admission is free and there is no need to book.
The lecture will be given by Professor Sir David Edward who is a member of the Standing Council on Europe set up by the First Minister following the result of the Referendum vote for the UK to leave the European Union. Further information is available here.
The Public Information Online website has recently been re-designed. The site is a one stop shop for information from Westminster, the Scottish Parliament, Northern Ireland and the Welsh assemblies. The people at PIO have recently produced some new promotional material too. Have a look at their video: