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.

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