A TRADE body behind the four-year legal bid to block the policy on minimum pricing of alcohol stands to lose up to £1.2 million if the court action is unsuccessful.

The sum is just a tiny proportion of the multi-billion profits enjoyed by the members of the Scotch Whisky Association.

Alison Douglas, Chief Executive of charity Alcohol Focus Scotland, said the money was a “drop in the ocean” compared to the “costs of alcohol harm”.

In 2012, MSPs passed legislation to set a minimum price per unit of alcohol, a policy SNP Ministers believe would target heavy drinkers and cheap, high-strength products.

Under the legislation, a cheap bottle of wine would be around £4.69 and a bottle of whisky could not be sold for less than £14.

However, the SWA, which represents the drinks giants, insisted the policy breached European law.

In 2013, the trade body unsuccessfully challenged minimum pricing in the Court of Session, after which an appeal was lodged with the European Court of Justice.

The ECJ determined that the plan could break EU law but the judges concluded it was "ultimately for the national court to determine".

A Scottish court last year backed the Government policy for a second time, but the SWA was allowed to challenge the ruling in the Supreme Court. A decision is expected soon.

The high-stakes legal bid will have a cost for whichever side loses a marathon case that has been heard in Edinburgh, London and Luxembourg.

In a section marked “contingent liabilities”, the last page of the SWA accounts from 2016 state: “On 21 December 2016, the Association was granted leave to appeal the decision of the Inner House of the Court of Session of 21 October 2016 to the UK Supreme Court.

“While the Association has received legal opinion supporting its appeal and the directors are confident of its outcome, if in the event that the appeal is unsuccessful the Association would incur estimated costs of between £900,000 and £1.2million.

“These potential costs have not been accounted for within these financial statements on the grounds that the Council do not believe that it is probable that they will be borne by the Association and it will only be confirmed following the outcome of Supreme Court judgement.”

The trade body posted a turnover of around £7.1m in 2016, of which £6.7m was subscription income, as well as a profit of £393,878.

The SWA employed an average of 35 people last year and had 65 member companies in the same period, including drinks giants such as Diageo, Chivas Brothers, Edrington and William Grant & Sons Ltd.

Tthe potential £1.2m cost is small compared to profit made by SWA members, such as the £2.1bn recorded by Diageo for the six months to December 31 last year.

Douglas said: “The potential cost to the SWA of the legal challenge it has led against the Scottish Government is but a drop in the ocean in comparison to the costs of alcohol harm in Scotland. Mirroring the tactics of the tobacco industry, they have sought to delay implementation of this life-saving measure in order to protect the profits of their shareholders.

“Meanwhile Scotland has continued to pay too high a price for our relationship with alcohol. The most recent figures show that in Scotland, 24 people lose their lives to alcohol every week. We cannot put a price on that. If minimum unit pricing had not been blocked by the SWA’s legal action we would have seen a reduction in those devastating numbers.”

SNP MSP Maree Todd said: “The cost to Scotland of problem drinking is not counted in pounds and pence but in lost lives and human misery – and the longer the SWA drag out this court case the more damage will be done to people’s lives.

“The SWA need to stop putting commercial interests above public health interests and drop their legal challenge to minimum pricing. The economic burden of alcohol-related health, social and economic problems means that Scotland’s alcohol problem is everyone’s problem, and the SWA need to put self-interest aside and embrace the most sensible solution we have to tackle this.”

A spokesman for the SWA said: “The statement in our accounts reflects external legal counsel’s estimate of potential costs faced by a losing party to the case, with the estimate covering costs at the Scottish, UK, and European levels since the review process began in 2012.”