Challenge to Tobacco Act abandoned

 

A sudden decision yesterday by several tobacco companies and others to abandon their lengthy legal action over new laws restricting the advertisement and promotion of cigarettes and other tobacco products has cleared the way for the introduction of the disputed legislation.

The plaintiffs now face a substantial bill for legal costs, estimated at several million euro, after Mr Justice Peter Kelly granted their application to discontinue their action, which had been due to open in the Commercial Court next Tuesday and to run for at least six weeks.

Lawyers for the Minister for Health and the State said they had learned of the proposal to discontinue earlier yesterday.

The challenge was to parts of the Public Health (Tobacco) Act 2002, as amended by the proposed new restrictions, and was initiated in April 2004 by 16 tobacco companies, others involved in supplying cigarettes to vending machines and a newsagent representing a number of retail outlets in the State.

The plaintiffs claimed the disputed provisions of the 2002 Act were unconstitutional, in breach of EU law and the European Convention on Human Rights and would involve financial losses for them if they came into effect.

Paul Gallagher SC, for the plaintiff companies, said his clients were not proceeding with the action and wished to discontinue the proceedings. They also accepted responsibility for the defence costs.

Pat Hanratty SC, for the State, said his side was not consenting to the action being discontinued and wished to have an order dismissing it.

This was a "root-and-branch" attack on the legislation in question under the Constitution and EU law and his side wished to have finality and to avoid another similar challenge being brought. He had just been told at this late stage of this development in the case, Mr Hanratty added.

Mr Gallagher said the idea that the case would manifest itself again through a related company was "a nonsense". Mr Justice Kelly said he would give the plaintiffs an order to discontinue their proceedings and then make an order striking out the action.