The decision to take the case to Europe was made at Edinburgh’s Court of Session following an appeal against the Scottish Parliament’s proposals to introduce MUP taken by the Scotch Whisky Association. The appeal was also backed by spiritsEurope who also sought a European hearing on the issue.
The appeal followed a Court of Session decision a year previously that the Scottish Parliament’s plan to impose a 50 Pence MUP could go ahead under its Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act which passed in June 2012.
Like the Irish government, the UK government is awaiting the outcome of the ECJ hearing before making a decision on whether or not to introduce MUP in England and Wales.
“As previously stated, we welcome the decision to refer this case, having called for that referral from the outset, believing that the question of its legality would always have to be decided in Luxembourg,” stated SpiritsEurope recently, “As to the efficacy of MUP in reducing harm, we strongly believe that the model on which it is based (used by the legislator in Scotland) is flawed.”
Even in the absence of MUP, SpiritsEurope cited a number of English and Scottish statistics which indicated that there had been a drop of 19% in the number of alcohol-related hospital discharges from the peak figures around 2007/2008.
This had been accompanied by a fall in alcohol-related deaths of 36% from a peak in 2003.
Deaths from alcoholic liver disease in Scotland and England had decreased 39% from their 2005 peak. Drink-driving convictions had fallen 48% over the past decade and drunkenness offences had fallen 27% between 2001/2 and 2009/10, remaining constant since then, it stated.
“In 2012, 43% of school pupils (aged 11-15) said that they had drunk alcohol at least once,” reported SpiritsEurope, “This continues the downward trend in England since 2003, when 61% of pupils had drunk alcohol.”
The ECJ must answer six questions with far-reaching impact, beyond the alcohol beverages sector, states SpiritsEurope, the representative body for European spirits producers.
“The fight against alcohol-related harm should continue” it concluded, “but the one against normal consumers and legitimate businesses should stop.”
The Scotch Whisky Association’s Chief Executive David Frost told Drinks Industry Ireland, “Minimum Unit Pricing for alcohol is not an evidence-based measure. The case for it rests on unproven models and its legality is currently being assessed by the European Court. It’s a heavy-handed way of trying to encourage responsible drinkers to drink slightly more responsibly while doing nothing to help heavy drinkers insensitive to price. Price-fixing does not become good policy just because the motives are good: instead we should all focus on what has been actually proven to work.”
The Inner House of the Court of Session (Scotland’s Court of Appeal) has referred the matter to the Court of Justice of the European Union for a preliminary ruling on six questions of law.
Several other Member States have taken the opportunity to lodge submissions. Following the oral hearing on 6th May the Advocate General will issue an opinion, with a ruling on the six questions due in 2016.
Thereafter the matter returns to the Inner House for a decision.
The six questions are available on the CJEU website under case reference C-333/2014.