UK Supreme Court approves minimum unit pricing for alcohol in Scotland

November 27, 2017

On the 15th November 2017 the UK Supreme Court handed down its judgement on the Scottish Government’s plans to implement a minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol in Scotland. The court ruled in favour of the Scottish Government’s plan making Scotland the first country in the world to implement a MUP.  The Supreme Court’s decision follows a five-year legal battle against the policy by alcohol producers led by the Scotch Whisky Association.

In a unanimous judgment, seven Supreme Court judges said the legislation did not breach European Union law and that the measure was a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”. The policy was found to be acceptable on health grounds under EU law. The Scotch Whisky Association brought the case against the Scottish Government arguing that minimum pricing breached EU and global trade law as it interfered with free trade and open borders regulations and there were more effective ways of tackling alcohol misuse.


Scotland’s minimum pricing policy for alcohol, to be fixed at 50p a unit, will come into force on 1 May 2018. The policy is aimed at stopping the sale of cut-price, high-alcohol drinks such as cider which will help to cut the number of alcohol-related deaths and hospital admissions in Scotland. Minimum unit pricing targets the cheap, high-strength alcohol consumed by the heaviest and highest-risk drinkers. Moderate drinkers would be affected to a much smaller degree.

Now that the Supreme Court have made their ruling, this will increase pressure on government ministers to follow suit in England who may now revisit the scheme which had previously been shelved. The Irish and Northern Irish governments may also consider bringing in a similar policy, with the Welsh government already planning to implement it.