The European Court of Justice has ruled that the Scottish government cannot introduce minimum unit pricing on alcohol – but has raised the probability of introducing a new tax to increase prices.

The court was ruling on legislation introduced in 2012 which recommended a 50p per unit price on alcohol. The legislation was challenged by the Scottish Whisky Association, who said this week in statement that minimum unit pricing is “illegal when there are less trade restrictive measures available”.

The ruling by the European Court of Justice raises the possibility of a tax-based increase on alcohol north of the border.

The Court’s ruling, which is subject to a final decision and an appeals process through the UK Supreme Court, said: “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.”