THE European Court of Justice has said the Scottish Government's case for a minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol is contrary to EU law if other tax options exist.

Legislation to bring in a minimum price of 50p per unit was passed by the Scottish Parliament in May 2012.

But the European Court of Justice said yesterday (Wednesday) it considered the proposal in Scotland would significantly restrict the market. Its ruling said there were other tax options available to increase alcohol prices.

The matter will now return to the Court of Session in Edinburgh, which had asked the ECJ to rule on whether MUP contravenes EU law.

The European Court of Justice's ruling comes after a legal challenge was brought by the Scotch Whisky Association. It argued the Scottish Government's legislation breached European law.

"The Court of Justice considers that the effect of the Scottish legislation is significantly to restrict the market, and this might be avoided by the introduction of a tax measure designed to increase the price of alcohol instead of a measure imposing a minimum price per unit of alcohol," said the European Court of Justice's ruling.

Responding to the ruling, Health Secretary Shona Robison said: "This ruling from the Court of Justice of the European Union indicates, importantly, that it will be for the domestic courts to take a final decision on minimum unit pricing.

"While we must await the final outcome of this legal process, the Scottish Government remains certain that minimum unit pricing is the right measure for Scotland. We believe it is the most effective mechanism for tackling alcohol misuse and reducing the harm that cheap, high-strength alcohol causes our communities.

"We maintain that minimum unit pricing would target heavy drinkers as they tend to drink the cheap, high strength alcohol that will be most affected by the policy.

"The case will now continue to the Scottish courts, and we look forward to a hearing in the new year to determine the outcome in this case."