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Supreme Court rules that Scotland can set a minimum price for alcohol

The UK Supreme Court has ruled that Scotland can set a minimum price for alcohol, rejecting a challenge by the alcohol industry.

Ministers said a 50p-per-unit minimum would help tackle Scotland’s “unhealthy relationship with drink” by raising the price of cheap, high-strength alcohol.

Legislation was approved by the Scottish Parliament five years ago but has been tied up in court challenges.

But the judges in the Supreme Court ruled the measure was a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.

Leading campaigners said the decision would also have implications for England and Wales, which should follow suit.

Chair of BMA Scotland Dr Peter Bennie said: “Today’s decision is great news for everyone whose priority is to reduce the harms caused by alcohol misuse. It has been a long road, but this judgement makes it clear that minimum unit pricing is legal.

“Today’s judgement should open the door for swift implementation of the policy in Scotland, but also show the UK’s other Governments that they can and should take similar action.

“We now look to the Scottish Government to set out its timetable for a swift implementation of minimum unit pricing.”

In a unanimous judgment, seven Supreme Court judges said the legislation did not breach European Union law.

The Scotch Whisky Association claimed the move was a “restriction on trade” and there were more effective ways of tackling alcohol misuse.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, said: “Five years ago the legislation introducing MUP passed through the Scottish Parliament without opposition. It has taken five years to implement for the simple reason that the Scottish Whisky Association and others chose to challenge it in the courts. In that time many families have needlessly suffered the pain and heartache of losing a loved one.

“This decision has implications far beyond Scotland. Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are now clear to progress their own plans for minimum unit pricing.

“The spotlight should now fall on England, where cheap alcohol is also causing considerable damage.  Over 23,000 people in England die every year from alcohol-related causes, many of them coming from the poorest and most vulnerable sections of society. We urge the Westminster Government to act now and introduce the measure in England. A failure to do so will needlessly cost more lives.”

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