State loses bid to have tobacco questions referred to EU court

JTI claims plain packaging will impair dynamics of competition in the tobacco market

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar: wanted Court of Justice of the EU to decide if directive was valid. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar: wanted Court of Justice of the EU to decide if directive was valid. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The State has lost its application to have questions in tobacco distributor JTI Ireland’s legal challenge to new laws on plain packaging referred to the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU).

JTI had opposed a reference to the CJEU on grounds including it would delay a decision from the same court on the same matter in another case referred by the English courts.

The Minister for Health and the State had sought to have the CJEU deal with a number of questions, including whether the 2014 EU tobacco products directive is valid, in advance of the hearing of JTI’s challenge here to the new legislation.

The State also wanted the CJEU to decide, in the event of it finding the directive invalid, whether member states derived the competence to enact plain-packaging legislation from the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU).

In the Commercial Court on Tuesday, Mr Justice Brian Cregan rejected the State’s application, saying the reference to the CJEU in the courts of England and Wales concerned the same issue of validity of the directive.

It was “neither necessary nor appropriate” for him to refer the questions to the CJEU at this stage of the proceedings, he said. “It would be unnecessary, premature and wasteful of costs”.

The decision means JTI’s case will proceed in the Commercial Court.

JTI Ireland’s general manager, Igor Dzaja, welcomed the decision.

Because the new law was due to come into effect next May, he said, his company was keen to have the issue resolved as quickly as possible and a further reference to the CJEU would have caused delay.

Directive’s validity

The Court of Justice of the EU is expected to hear in October or November the reference from the English courts dealing with the validity of the 2014 directive.

In its action before the Commercial Court, JTI claims the new legislation is contrary to EU harmonisation objectives and an obstacle to trade between member states.

JTI also claims it will distort and impair the dynamics of competition in the tobacco market. It says the standardised packaging law imposes stricter rules than those necessary to transpose a 2014 EU directive.