Scotland

Minimum alcohol pricing: European judges hear Scottish case

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The European Court of Justice is to hear evidence from the Scottish government on its case for introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol.

The hearing in Luxembourg will enable the court to produce its preliminary ruling on the policy.

Legislation to bring in a minimum unit price of 50p was passed by the Scottish Parliament in May 2012.

But a legal challenge was brought by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), which argued it breached European law.

Holyrood ministers have said minimum pricing was vital to address Scotland's "unhealthy relationship with drink".

The legal bid by the SWA, backed by other European wine and spirits producers, was initially rejected by judge Lord Doherty at the Court of Session in Edinburgh in 2013.

However, following an appeal hearing, the case was referred to the European court for its opinion last year.

Judges are due to hear oral evidence from the Scottish government.

EU member states will also have the opportunity to make representations to the court, with Ireland, Norway, the UK and Sweden expected to argue in support of the policy.

Speaking before the hearing, Health Secretary Shona Robison said: "In Scotland we drink far more than we did a generation ago and alcohol consumption is almost a fifth higher than the rest of the UK.

"Heavy drinking places a heavy burden on society, not just by damaging health and causing premature death, but also by contributing to crime and disorder.

"Introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol is the best, most targeted way to tackle the affordability of cheap, strong alcohol consumed by heavy drinkers without penalising moderate drinkers."

She added: "I'm confident that we have a strong case and I'm proud that Scotland is leading the way in Europe on this important issue."

A preliminary ruling by the court in Luxembourg will be issued later this year and the case will then be referred back to the Court of Session for a final decision.

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