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6 May 2015, 08:11
Plans for a minimum price for alcohol in Scotland will be considered by the highest court in matters of European Union (EU) law today.
A hearing on the Scottish Government's proposal for a minimum unit price of 50p is scheduled to take place at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.
EU member states will have the opportunity to make representations to the court, with Ireland, Norway, the UK and Sweden expected to argue in support of the policy.
Legislation to introduce minimum pricing north of the border was passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2012.
The plan stalled after the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) and other European wine and spirits producers mounted a legal challenge, arguing that minimum pricing would breach European law.
The legal bid was initially rejected by judge Lord Doherty at the Court of Session in Edinburgh in 2013.
Following an appeal hearing, the case was referred to the EU court for its opinion last year.
Speaking before the hearing, Health Secretary Shona Robison said the move was necessary to tackle Scotland's unhealthy relationship with alcohol.
She 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.
"It will reduce the many harms caused by excessive drinking as part of the broad range of actions we are taking.
"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 EU court will be issued later this year before the case is referred back to the Court of Session for a final decision.