The European Court of Justice has ducked making a potentially controversial ruling on the legality of Swedish laws banning alcohol advertising.

Judges heard a case referred by the Stockholm district court, which had been brought by Sweden's consumer ombudsman against a food and drink magazine Gourmet, which had carried ads for red wine and whisky.

Its management had claimed that Swedish law should not apply, as 90% of its readers are traders, manufacturers and retailers, and as a result, consumers would not be persuaded to take up drinking.

However, the ombudsman disagreed, asking the national courts to fine Gourmet and grant a further restraining injunction. The magazine claimed that the action broke EU trade laws and the case was referred to the ECJ.

However, although its judges ruled that the Swedish law did break EU law by discriminating against alcohol importers, who could not rely on local word-of-mouth, they said the government had a conditional right to impose restrictions on health grounds.

The key question of whether the resulting ban was "proportionate" to the need to restrict drinking was however kicked back to the district court.