Commission v United Kingdom [Excise Duties on Wine] [1980]

European Law

 

Commission v United Kingdom [Excise Duties on Wine]
‘Still Life with Bottle, Glass and Loaf’ by Imitator of Jean-Siméon Chardin

Member State obligations to observe the fairness of the European market when allowing for competition were crystallised in this taxation matter surrounding the importation and domestic production of alcoholic drinks.

The terms of Art.95 EC (in particular para.1) were constructed so as to allow and support the freedom of competition between Member States when selling comparable products including alcoholic beverages in their various forms, however during a period between 1973 and 1981 the United Kingdom deliberately increased the taxation rates for bottled wines over that of bottled beers, thus the margin between the two remained disproportionate for a considerable period and significantly hampered the sale of affordable imported wines in lieu of an over-proliferation of domestic low-volume beers.

When addressed by the European Commission under the inference that such disparity amounted to a breach of para.2 of art.95 EC, it was suggested that while running contrary to the harmonisation of Community law, the Member State was, under art.169 EC now required to submit its own observations in defence of its failure to follow the terms prescribed.

In response the United Kingdom contested the findings with little supporting evidence, thereby prompting the Commission to apply to the European Court of Justice on the strength of the breach, while citing that by way of reparation the United Kingdom was to pay the costs of the action. 

Shortly afterwards the Court also allowed Italy to intervene in support of the Commission under art.37 of the Protocol on the Statute of the Court of Justice, whereupon the Court instructed the three parties to reexamine their arguments and submit relevant chronological sales data before reconvening for judgment.

Having established that the manufacturing processes for beer and wine were comparable, it was then revealed that due to the complex structure of the British market it was only possible to compare prices through the taxation rates applicable to the volume (strength) of the alcohol in hand. 

It was this contradistinction that showed clear support for the suggestion that protective measures had been implemented in order to deprive the import of affordable wines from other Member Sates despite the measures laid down under art.95 and the United Kingdom’s obligation to follow them.

Citing numerous and unsustainable arguments for the heavy taxation of wines (including manufacturing costs (as previously ruled out) and alleged ‘social’ reasons) the Court held that a serious breach of art.95 EC had been in existence not only for a considerable period, but that recent attempts to narrow the margin were indicative of reasons beyond that expected from a Member State when observing their duty to encourage and support the free movement of goods and equality of competition between states, before reminding those responsible that:

“[A] Member State may lay down differing tax arrangements even for identical products on the basis of objective criteria provided that such arrangements pursue objectives of economic policy which are themselves compatible with Community law and that they are not discriminatory or protective in nature.”

Martin v. State (1944)

US Criminal Law

Martin v State
‘The Drunk’ by Alessandro Pomi

Liability for public drunk and disorderly behaviour under Alabama State law requires the defendant to display a willingness to appear so, while in this case the accused was found within the privacy of his own property at the time of arrest, thus the court was left explaining the process to those bringing charges.

After receiving reports of a drunken man walking along the local highway, the respondent police force located and apprehended the appellant in his home address, before charging him with public intoxication under § 120 of the Alabama Criminal Code of 1940, which read in relevant part that:

“Any person who, while intoxicated or drunk, appears in any public place where one or more persons are present….and manifests a drunken condition by boisterous or indecent conduct, or loud and profane discourse, shall, on conviction, be fined” 

Whereupon the Circuit Court of Houston County convicted the appellant accordingly, and after which he challenged the judgment in the Alabama Court of Appeals, who simply referred to Thomas v. State, in which the Georgia Court of Appeals had held that:

“[T]he place where the drunken condition exists is no less essential to the offense than the condition itself….”

While further noting that on this occasion the arresting officers had physically escorted the appellant from his house to the location described in order to secure their arrest, hence the court instantly reversed circuit court judgment in full while reminding the attending parties that: 

“[A]n accusation of drunkenness in a designated public place cannot be established by proof that the accused, while in an intoxicated condition, was involuntarily and forcibly carried to that place by the arresting officer. 

Barrett v Ministry of Defence (1994)

English Tort Law

Barrett v Ministry of Defence
‘Fra Balestrand’ by Even Ulving

Self-intoxication when subject to unenforced regulatory powers, while seemingly harmless in the early stages, becomes less a voluntary act than an inevitability when boredom and recklessness result in a fatality. Sadly on this occasion, the celebratory rituals of a naval base exposed a regime based upon irresponsibility rather than organised discipline.

In litigation by writ during early 1990, the widow of a naval airman sought damages for negligence arising from a breach of duty of care through the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 and the Law Reform Miscellaneous Provisions Act 1934, after her late husband was found dead in his bunk.

In late January 1988, the deceased was celebrating his 30th birthday and pending promotion while stationed at the Barduffos Royal Naval Air Station, Norway, a base known for its leniency towards off-duty drinking, despite recognised preventative guidelines and clear definitions as per s.28 of the Naval Discipline Act 1957, which read:

“A person is drunk . . . if owing to the influence of alcohol or any drug, whether alone or in combination with any other circumstances, he is unfit to be entrusted with his duty or with any duty which he might be called upon to perform, or behaves in a disorderly manner or in a manner likely to bring discredit on Her Majesty’s service.”

While art.1810 of the Queen’s Regulations for the Royal Navy 1967 also explained how:

“It is the particular duty of all officers, fleet chief petty officers, chief petty officers, petty officers and leading ratings actively to discourage drunkenness, overindulgence in alcohol and drug abuse by naval personnel both on board and ashore. Should a man appear to be suffering from any of these abuses they are immediately to take appropriate action to prevent any likely breaches of discipline, possible injury or fatality, including medical assistance if it is available.”

On the night before his death, the deceased had consumed enough alcohol to lapse into unconsciousness shortly before midnight, after which he was taken to his room and left in the recovery position. It was during the following three hours that he was visited only three times, after which he had vomited and asphyxiated through inhalation of the vomitus. Within the base codes of conduct was guidance for dealing with inebriated servicemen, within which it read:

“(i) Keep the offender out of distance of officers or senior ratings so that he cannot commit himself by striking or by insubordination. Avoid altercation, (ii) Have him examined by the duty M.O. (iii) Should he be in a state of collapse, make sure he does not lie on his back so that he can suffocate if he vomits. See that he is sighted every few minutes.”

In the first hearing, the judge ruled that the appellants had, by virtue of their inability to enforce the regulations and codes of conduct, failed to provide a sufficient duty of care when managing the deceased and awarded damages of around £214,000, with a one-third reduction for the contributory negligence through over-consumption of alcohol.

Presented to the Court of Appeal on grounds of erring in law when comparing the Queen’s Regulations with the Highway Code and thereby over-extending the liability of the Ministry when passing judgment, the Court reexamined the facts, along with the threshold of culpability, whereupon it held that while the appellants had failed to uphold a reasonable standard of care, the choice to drink excessively was undoubtedly the primary cause of death, at which point the Court reversed the proportion of liability in favour of the appellants thus reducing the damages to roughly £71,000.