Scotland leads the way for public health with the UK Supreme Court backing the Scottish Government imitative of minimum unit pricing for alcohol.

The Supreme Court justices unanimously dismissed the appeal brought by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) and other drinks manufacturers, who argued that the policy was “disproportionate” and illegal under European law. The Supreme Court ruled that the proposed minimum unit pricing policy is appropriately targeted, lawful and proportionate.

This ends five years of legal challenges and delay since the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012 was first passed by Scottish Government to address a health crisis responsible for 1,265 deaths in 2016, an increase of 10 per cent on the year before.

The Scottish Government says this is linked to alcohol being 60 per cent more affordable than in the 1980s, with wide ranging costs to public health.

Its current MUP proposal of a 50p per unit charge means four 440ml cans of five per cent strength lager would cost at least £4.40, a 12 per cent bottle of wine would be at least £4.50 and a 70cl bottle of whisky must cost at least £14.

The Scottish Government hailed Wednesday’s unanimous ruling, which it said had “global significance”. 

Modelling from Sheffield University shows a minimum unit price of 50 pence is estimated to result in, 121 fewer deaths per annum by year 20 of the policy and a fall in hospital admissions of just over 2,000 per annum by year 20 of the policy.

Scottish Health Secretary Shona Robison will set out the timetable for implementation to MSPs “shortly”, but said of the judgment: “This is a historic and far-reaching judgment and a landmark moment in our ambition to turn around Scotland’s troubled relationship with alcohol.

Prior to implementing the policy, Ministers will now conduct a consultation on the proposed 50 pence per unit price and refresh the Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment (BRIA) that is required by Parliament.  The Scottish Government anticipates setting the minimum unit price at 50 pence per unit, subject to the outcome of the consultation and the refreshed BRIA.