The Council of State has overturned a ban on street prostitution introduced in Brussels-City at the end of September by mayor Philippe Close (PS).
The Council ruled that a municipality does not have the authority to order such a ban, which can only be done by a regional or federal authority.
The Council of State is the legal body which deals with cases questioning the legality of the decisions of all levels of government. Normally, governments also submit their legislative proposals for scrutiny before they become law.
The ban was introduced last month, on the basis, Close said, of prevention of the spread of the coronavirus Covid-19. The ban covered street solicitation as well as meetings in ‘rendezvous hotels’. The main areas in Brussels-City for prostitution and the so-called Alhambra quarter, in the neighbourhood between Rogier and Yser metro stations and along the Boulevard Emile Jacqmain, and Avenue Louise.
Other communes affected by prostitution, like Saint-Josse and Schaerbeek, said they would not be following suit.
Espace P, the organisation that represents the interests of sex workers, immediately protested against the rule, pointing out that it would place about 200 sex workers, already in a precarious social position, in danger by taking away their livelihoods and leaving many unable, because of their legal position, to fall back on financial aid.
Finally the appeal to the Council of State came from one sex worker and the owner of one of the hotels where sex workers meet with clients.
The judgement leaves to one side the justification offered by Close that the measure was needed to protect the population from the spread of Covid-19, and instead considered only the mayor’s ability to bring in such a ban.
The federal government could certainly do so, the Council ruled, as could the Brussels regional government, if the problem could be shown to be particular to Brussels. But it is not within the powers of the council of a single commune to do so.
“The ban pushed many people into a very precarious situation,” explained Maxime Maes of interest group Utsopi to Bruzz.
“To the extent that many have just carried on working. That was the difference from the first wave, when the vast majority really did stop.”
Furthermore, said Maes, the vast majority of sex workers strictly observe the rules of corona hygiene.
“Most sex workers try to stick to the rules, but some clients insist on sex without a mask and even want to pay extra. Something that also happens with the use of a condom.”
According to Utsopi, there are few infections among prostitutes.
““We don’t have exact figures, but if there was a real problem we would know.”