Is begging speech? Assessing Judge Keller’s concurring opinion in Lăcătuş v. Switzerland

By Dr Dimitrios Kagiaros, Assistant Professor in Public Law and Human Rights, University of Durham

In its judgment in Lăcătuş v. Switzerland, the European Court of Human Rights (‘the Court’) held that fining and imprisoning the applicant for begging amounted to a violation of Article 8 of the Convention. While the judgment raises many important issues that have been expertly covered on this blog (here), the focus of this post is on Judge Keller’s concurring opinion. In this separate opinion, Judge Keller takes issue with the majority’s refusal to examine whether begging engages Article 10 ECHR. She ultimately concludes that begging constitutes a form of communication that amounts to speech for the purposes of the Convention. The crux of Judge Keller’s argument is that begging can be likened to a distress call through which the purported speaker communicates her destitution to others in order to seek assistance. Therefore, Judge Keller views begging as an invitation to social interaction between the impoverished person and those she approaches for help. In support of this view, Judge Keller also points to developments in ECHR Member States that link begging to Article 10.

Continue reading

Beg your Pardon!: Criminalisation of Poverty and the Human Right to Beg in Lăcătuş v. Switzerland

By Corina Heri, postdoctoral researcher at University of Zürich

Begging can be framed in different ways. For city tourism officials, it’s a problem of branding. For local legislatures, it’s an opportunity to show a ‘tough on crime’ stance. For the people who beg themselves, begging can mean survival. But, until recently anyway, the European Court of Human Rights had not considered begging as a human rights issue. That is, until 19 January 2021, when it recognised that there is in fact a human right to beg.

In the judgment concerned, Lăcătuş v. Switzerland (available here, in French only), the Third Section found that the city of Geneva had violated a young Roma woman’s Article 8 ECHR rights (respect for private and family life) by fining and ultimately imprisoning her for begging. This post will summarise and discuss the judgment, and look at how it fits into the grander scheme of the Court’s poverty-related jurisprudence and its views on distributional justice. It will also discuss the rights claims that the judges did and did not entertain, and will touch on the issue of the applicant’s vulnerability.

Continue reading

Yeshtla v. the Netherlands: a missed opportunity to reflect on the discriminatory effects of States’ social policy choices

By Fulvia Staiano, Adjunct Professor of International Law and European Union Law (Giustino Fortunato University)

On 15 January 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) delivered an inadmissibility decision on the case of Emabet Yeshtla v. the Netherlands. In this case, the ECtHR was asked to determine whether the withdrawal of the applicant’s housing benefits (motivated by the fact that she cohabited with an unlawfully resident son) had breached her right to respect for private and family life under Art. 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), alone and in conjunction with the prohibition of discrimination under Art. 14 ECHR. This case raised interesting questions on the potential impact of social assistance and welfare policies on recipients’ family life, as well as on the discriminatory effects of domestic norms that use social benefits as a tool to discourage irregular residence. Regrettably, the ECtHR dismissed this case without a thorough consideration of such questions. Continue reading

Strasbourg fails to protect the rights of people living in or at risk of poverty: the disappointing Grand Chamber judgment in Garib v the Netherlands

By Valeska David and Sarah Ganty, PhD researchers at Ghent University and Université Libre de Bruxelles

On November 6th the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights issued its judgment in Garib v. the Netherlands (Application n° 43494/09). It thereby confirmed the Chamber’s finding that refusing a housing permit to a single mother living on social welfare on account of legislation imposing minimum income requirements to reside in a number of hotspot areas of Rotterdam, did not violate her freedom to choose her residence (Article 2 of Protocol 4 ECHR). While the applicant and our third party intervention invited the Grand Chamber to examine the case also under Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) read in conjunction with Article 2 of Protocol 4 ECHR, the Grand Chamber declined to do so. Five judges, rightly so, annexed three highly critical dissenting opinions. As we shall show in this post, this is a deeply disappointing judgment in terms of both reasoning and outcome.

Continue reading