Wednesday 26 October 2016

Plain-pack cigarettes legal challenge could end up in European court


Former Minister for Health, James Reilly, T.D. announcing the intention for plain packet cigarettes
Former Minister for Health, James Reilly, T.D. announcing the intention for plain packet cigarettes

A LEGAL challenge against new laws requiring plain packaging on tobacco products may be referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).

The Commercial Court heard that the State hopes matters raised in a challenge by JTI Ireland Ltd to the legislation can be dealt with at the same time as an English case which has also been referred to the European courts.

JTI is seeking orders preventing the Minister for Health, Ireland and the Attorney General from activating the provisions of the recently passed Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Act 2015.

It claims the State cannot unilaterally introduce plain packaging on its products as a member of the EU. It also argues that the proposal to introduce plain packaging is an obstacle to trade between member states.

JTI further claims the standardised packaging law imposes stricter rules than those necessary to transpose a 2014 EU directive.

The matter came before Mr Justice Brian McGovern who, following an application by Paul Sreenan SC for JTI, agreed to admit the case to the fast-track Commercial Court division.

Michael Cush SC, for the state parties, said it was his clients' intention to apply to the Commercial Court to have certain legal questions arising out of JTI's action referred to the Luxembourg-based CJEU.

Counsel referred to the England and Wales High Court's decision to refer to the same EU court questions concerning the validity of the 2014 EU directive in a case that also arose out of proposals to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products.

That action is brought to the European Courts by the Philip Morris tobacco company and British American Tobacco against the UK Health Secretary.


Counsel said similar issues have been raised in that case to those being advanced in JTI's proceedings. It was hoped the Irish case could travel together with the English case.

Mr Justice McGovern agreed to adjourn the matter for two weeks to allow the State to make its application to have the case referred to the European Court.

JTI says the minister and the State do not have the power or competence to derogate from the directive. JTI is part of an international tobacco group with operations in 70 countries and employs 90 people in Ireland.

It says it paid €666m in tax here in 2013.

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