ECtHR: penalising begging in blanket manner breaches human dignity and privacy rights
Today, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) handed down its Chamber judgment in Lăcătuş v. Switzerland (application no. 14065/15), ruling that Swiss authorities breached the right to respect for private and family life in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) by ordering the applicant to pay a fine of more than 400 euros for begging in public in Geneva, and by subsequently detaining her for five days for failure to pay the fine.
The applicant, Violeta-Sibianca Lăcătuş, is a Romanian national belonging to the Roma community. The Strasbourg-based court noted that she is an illiterate person from an extremely poor family, and that at the relevant time she had no work and was not in receipt of social benefits, so that begging in public was her means of survival. According to the ECtHR, under such vulnerable circumstances, covering one’s plight and attempting to meet one’s basic needs by begging is a right inherent in human dignity. However, under the Geneva Criminal Law Act begging in public places is a criminal offence.
Today’s ruling stresses that Switzerland had overstepped its margin of appreciation by having in force legislation that penalised, in a blanket manner, persons engaging in begging, and notes that the majority of Council of Europe Contracting States impose more nuanced restrictions than the blanket ban under the Geneva Criminal Law Act. The ECtHR noted that an outright ban on a certain type of conduct was a radical measure which required strong justification and particularly rigorous scrutiny by the courts empowered to weigh up the various interests at stake. Moreover, in the case at hand, the penalty imposed on the applicant had not been proportionate to the aim of combating organised crime, nor to the aim of protecting the rights of passers-by, residents and shopkeepers. The ECtHR concluded that such a penalty infringed the applicant’s human dignity and impaired the very essence of the rights protected by Article 8 ECHR.
A concurring opinion as well as two partly dissenting opinions are annexed to the judgment.
Read it here.