Quite a bar tab: whisky lobby could face £1.2m court costs
THE Scotch Whisky Association, the trade body behind the four-year legal bid to block the government policy on minimum pricing of alcohol, stands to lose up to £1.2 million if the court action is unsuccessful.
The sum is just a tiny proportion of the multi-billion-pound profits enjoyed by members of the SWA.
Alison Douglas, chief executive of charity Alcohol Focus Scotland, said the money was a “drop in the ocean” compared to the “costs of alcohol harm”. In 2012, MSPs passed legislation to set a minimum price per unit of alcohol, a policy SNP ministers believe would target heavy drinkers and cheap, high-strength products.
Under the legislation, a cheap bottle of wine would be around £4.69 and a bottle of whisky could not be sold for less than £14. The SWA, which represents the drinks giants, insisted the policy breached European law.
In 2013, the trade body unsuccessfully challenged minimum pricing in the Court of Session, after which an appeal was lodged with the European Court of Justice.
The ECJ determined that the plan could break EU law but the judges concluded it was “ultimately for the national court to determine”.
A Scottish court last year backed the Government policy for a second time, but the SWA was allowed to challenge the ruling in the Supreme Court. A decision is expected soon.
The high-stakes legal bid will have a cost for whichever side loses a marathon case that has been heard in Edinburgh, London and Luxembourg.
In a section marked “contingent liabilities”, the last page of the SWA accounts from 2016 state: “If in the event that the appeal is unsuccessful the Association would incur estimated costs of between £900,000 and £1.2m.”
Douglas said: “The potential cost to the SWA of the legal challenge it has led against the Scottish Government is but a drop in the ocean in comparison to the costs of alcohol harm in Scotland. Mirroring the tactics of the tobacco industry, they have sought to delay implementation of this life-saving measure in order to protect the profits of their shareholders.”
SNP MSP Maree Todd said: “The cost to Scotland of problem drinking is not counted in pounds and pence but in lost lives and human misery – and the longer the SWA drag out this court case the more damage will be done to people’s lives.”
A spokesman for the SWA said: “The statement in our accounts reflects external legal counsel’s estimate of potential costs faced by a losing party to the case, with the estimate covering costs at the Scottish, UK, and European levels since the review process began in 2012.”
The potential cost to the SWA is but a drop in the ocean in comparison to the costs of alcohol harm in Scotland