Scotland’s proposal to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol is contrary to EU law if “less restrictive” tax measures can be introduced, according to the European Court of Justice.

In today’s (Wednesday) judgement, the Court of Justice said minimum pricing would significantly restrict the market and recommends an alternative tax measure designed to increase the price of alcohol.

However, it said it was ultimately for the national court in Edinburgh to determine whether raising tax levels would be as effective as minimum unit pricing.

The legislation to introduce a 50p minimum unit price was passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2012, but the Scottish Whisky Association launched a legal challenge because it believed the proposals breached European law.

David Frost, SWA chief executive, said: “We welcome the European Court’s ruling. The SWA always said European Union law issues were central to this case, and so it has proved. This settles EU law issues once and for all.

“The Court has confirmed that minimum unit pricing (MUP) is a restriction on trade, and that it is illegal to choose MUP where there are less restrictive ways of achieving the same end.

“The Scottish courts will now reflect on the implications of the ruling and all the evidence, before issuing a final judgement.”

Scottish 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.”