The fine for begging in public areas breached the Convention

In the case of Lăcătuş v. Switzerland (application no. 14065/15, 19.01.2020) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights. 

The case concerned an order for the applicant to pay a fine of 500 Swiss francs (CHF) (approximately 464 euros (EUR)) for begging in public in Geneva, and her detention in a remand prison for five days for failure to pay the fine. 

The Court observed that section 11A (1) of the Geneva Criminal Law Act stated that “begging [was] punishable by a   fine”. Hence, that provision penalised in blanket fashion persons engaging in begging. The Court considered 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. In the present case the applicable legislation had  precluded a  genuine balancing of  the interests at stake, and penalised begging in blanket fashion.

The Court observed that the applicant, who was illiterate and came from an extremely poor family, had no work and was not in receipt of social benefits. Begging constituted a means of survival for her. Being in a clearly vulnerable situation, the applicant had had the right, inherent in human dignity, to attempt to meet her basic needs by begging.

The Court considered that the penalty imposed on the applicant had not been proportionate either to the aim of combating organised crime or to the aim of protecting the rights of passers-by, residents and shopkeepers. 

The Court did not subscribe to the Federal Court’s argument that less restrictive measures would not have achieved a comparable result. In the Court’s view, the penalty imposed had infringed the applicant’s human dignity and impaired the very essence of the rights protected by Article 8 of the Convention, and the State had thus overstepped its margin of appreciation in the present case.

Reference from the official website of the European Court of Human Rights