Home > Minimum unit pricing backed by courts in Scotland.

Dillon, Lucy (2017) Minimum unit pricing backed by courts in Scotland. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 60, Winter 2017, p. 6.

PDF (Drugnet Ireland 60)

On 21 October 2016, the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled against the challenge to the introduction of minimum unit pricing (MUP) in Scotland, brought by the Scotch Whisky Association and others.1 Essentially, the case was about a measure (MUP) that the Scottish government argued would help to reduce alcohol-related harm, while the producers and sellers of alcohol argued that it inhibited their right by law to trade freely across the EU.


The Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act was passed in June 2012: 86 members of the Scottish Parliament voted in its favour, one voted against and 32 abstained. In line with the Act, the minimum price was to be calculated according to a formula: MPU × S × V × 100 (minimum price per unit × strength of the alcohol × volume of the alcohol in litres). In 2013, Scotland set the MUP at 50p (approx. 55c) – a 70cl bottle of spirits with an ABV (alcohol by volume) of 40% would retail at a minimum of £14 (€15.50). This formula and the case for introducing MUP more broadly were informed by research conducted by experts from the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group (SARG) at the University of Sheffield. These experts have also applied their modelling to the Irish context.2


Central to the judgement in October was the question whether or not MUP was a proportionate policy under EU law – in other words, are there more public health benefits to be achieved by introducing MUP than could be achieved by other existing policy options, in particular increased taxation on alcohol? Those opposing MUP argued that changes in taxation would be a more suitable course of action. However, in delivering its ruling, the court stated that:


The fundamental problem with an increase in tax is simply that it does not produce a minimum price [para. 196] …. The advantage of the proposed minimum pricing system, so far as protecting health and life is concerned, is that it is linked to the strength of the alcohol. Current EU tax arrangements relate to different types of product (wine, spirits, beer and cider etc) each of which has a range of ABVs .… they do not permit taxation of wines at variable rates according to the strength of alcoholic content. Minimum pricing permits lower pricing to be charged for lower strength alcohol [para. 198].1


While the ruling paved the way for the Scottish government to implement the Act, in November 2016 the Scotch Whisky Association launched an appeal on the decision to the UK Supreme Court in London. 


1    The full Court of Session judgement is available online at https://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/search-judgments/judgment?id=9a1821a7-8980-69d2-b500-ff0000d74aa7

2    See Drugnet, vol. 56, ‘Minimum unit pricing for alcohol: what will it really mean?’ for a discussion on the Sheffield research applied to the Irish context. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/25136/

Repository Staff Only: item control page