UK plain packs court decision: interests at stake ‘collide in the most irreconcilable of ways’

The decision on 19 May 2016 by the High Court of Justice of England and Wales to dismiss the legal challenges brought by the four multinational tobacco companies against the UK’s tobacco plain packaging legislation was a major blow to the industry. The 386 page ruling addresses a wide range of legal claims and evidence; together with lessons learned from the industry’s failed attempts to overturn Australia’s 2012 plain packaging legislation, it provides an important resource for countries planning to introduce similar laws.

The McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, a joint initiative of Cancer Council Victoria and the Union for International Cancer Control, has prepared a paper on the UK decision which draws out eight key aspects likely to be of widest relevance to litigation and policy development in other jurisidictions. Included in the aspects of the ruling which are explored and analysed are: the intent and limits of the laws, the conflicting interests of the tobacco industry and public health, the complementary nature of comprehensive tobacco control measures, and the relevance of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Some notheworthy points in the analysis:

  • “…the Court points out that tobacco companies overstate the restrictive effects and implications of standardised packaging legislation” (page 4)
  • “The Court noted that the interests at stake ‘collide in the most irreconcilable of ways” (page 4)
  • “The Court notes that not all rights and interests are of equal value or worth. The protection of public health is one of the highest of all public interests. Health is a fundamental right” (page 5)
  • “…the Court notes that effective tobacco control requires the implementation of a number of complementary, mutually reinforcing measures, and that it can be difficult (if not impossible) to evaluate the contribution of individual measures in isolation to the reduction of tobacco use” (page 6)
  • “…the Court recognises that tobacco control does not and cannot stand still if it is to be effective (page 7)
  • “…the Court recognises the fundamental reality of intellectual property rights – they are created and protected to serve public purposes and interests, and are not absolute. Their exercise can be limited or restricted to serve other public purposes and interests. Public health is universally recognised as a public purpose and interest which justifies limitations and restrictions on the exercise of intellectual property rights” (pages 10 and 11)
  • “…the Court explains why, even if standardized packaging laws did constitute an expropriation of property, standardized packaging would fall within the category of ‘exceptional’ circumstances in which it would not be appropriate to require the payment of compensation” (page 13)

The full paper can be accessed by clicking here.

The McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Knowledge Hub provides a public resource on legal issues relevant to tobacco control. Click here to link to the Hub.