30 Jun 2023

ENNHRI submits a third-party intervention to the European Court of Human Rights on the criminalisation of public begging 

In its third-party intervention in the case Dian v. Denmark, ENNHRI invites the European Court of Human Rights to reaffirm its position that the right to beg can only be restricted in exceptional circumstances, and when it is necessary and proportionate. ENNHRI also submits that there is a need for further legal guidance to ensure that regulations on public begging comply with the European Convention on Human Rights. 

The case has been brought by a Romanian man who was sentenced to 20-day unconditional imprisonment for begging in a non-aggressive way on a pedestrian street in Copenhagen. The applicant alleges that Denmark has violated his right to respect for private life enshrined in Article 8 of the Convention. 

The case follows the Court’s landmark decision in the case Lăcătuş v. Switzerland, where it found that a five-day imprisonment imposed on a Roma woman for begging in Geneva was a violation of Article 8 of the Convention. It was the first case on begging in public decided on by the Court.  

In its intervention, ENNHRI assesses both Danish rules and practice concerning begging in public and the jurisprudence of the Court and other relevant international standards. Moreover, on the basis of data provided by NHRIs from 12 Council of Europe Member States, ENNHRI’s submission confirms the general tendency already observed by the Court in the Lăcătuş judgment inter alia that a general prohibition laid down in criminal law appeared to be the exception.  

The situation in Denmark stands in contrast to this general tendency, as the Danish rules combine a national ban on begging of any kind, which is imposed by criminal law and penalised with deprivation of liberty, with its active enforcement by the Danish authorities. 

ENNHRI invites the Court to reaffirm the position set out in the Lăcătuş judgment that the right to beg can only be restricted in exceptional circumstances and that restrictions are only acceptable to the extent that these are the result of a careful balancing exercise, taking into account the concrete circumstances of the case. ENNHRI also states that any general ban on begging falls outside any acceptable margin of appreciation. 

Furthermore, ENNHRI submits that: 

  • the scope of the right to beg should be interpreted broadly;  
  • it should be clarified when states may exceptionally impose restrictions on begging; 
  • resorting to criminal law is not acceptable;  
  • persons living in poverty must be protected by social assistance measures. 

The intervention was developed under the lead of the group of members from ENNHRI’s Legal Working Group and ENNHRI’s Economic, Social & Cultural Rights Working Group. The intervention builds on information from ENNHRI members on national legislation concerning prohibitions on begging.