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European Court ruling on minimum alcohol pricing a "score draw", says QC

The Court of Justice of the European Union’s judgment concerning the Scottish Government’s minimum alcohol pricing proposal was a “score draw” and there will be further litigation, a leading licensing QC has said.

The Scottish Government has proposed setting a minimum price for alcohol of 50p per unit.

Philip Kolvin QC, Head of Cornerstone Barristers, summarised the CJEU ruling as follows:

  1. Minimum pricing is an obstacle to the free movement of goods.
  2. It is justifiable on grounds of the protection of health only if it is proportionate to the objective pursued.
  3. Minimum pricing is an appropriate means of promoting health both at population level and among hazardous drinkers.
  4. But it is not proportionate where it is possible for health to be protected equally effectively by tax measures.
  5. This is because tax increases can be absorbed by sellers, who remain free to sell at a price of their choosing.
  6. The Scottish court must now decide whether measures other than minimum pricing, such as tax measures, are as effective in protecting health. If they are, minimum pricing is disproportionate.
  7. In making that decision, the Scottish court will have to examine all the evidence provided by the Scottish Government, and not just that which was available when it passed the minimum pricing legislation.

“Reports in the press of the demise of minimum pricing are therefore exaggerated,” Kolvin said. “More litigation awaits. It will all be over by next Christmas.”

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