The right to a livelihood is not expressly recognised in the European Convention on Human Rights. However, it is part of the bundle of rights protected by the guarantee of and protection for the peaceful enjoyment of one’s possessions.
This includes the right to exercise a particular profession or trade without undue restriction. The right restricts undue limitations and controls. A business or profession may be licensed. The person’s rights or interests are protected under the umbrella of possessions which embrace property rights, including a business’s goodwill and assets.
Interference with the right to a livelihood may be justified if there is a legitimate reason. It must be in the general interest of the community. It must not be arbitrary and must be in accordance with law. If a law is changing in the normal course for a good reason and this is flagged in sufficient time, there is unlikely to be a breach.
The rights to protection of business interests require that they be built up or acquired. Interference with the right to practice itself may breach the protection unless it is objectively justifiable.
In many contexts, a business will have a legitimate interest in the protection of its assets such that sudden and arbitrary governmental interference will be permissible only for demonstrably legitimate purposes. He may have a reasonable expectation of being able to continue to provide and undertake the relevant business.
Similarly, provisions apply to licences. The withdrawal of a licence or the authority to practice must be for good reason under the relevant regulatory scheme and be undertaken in accordance with principles of fair procedures.
The protections apply to new requirements for existing professions and licences. Where parties have built up a client base and a reputation, measures which affect the exercise of their profession must conform to the principles in the Convention.
There must be a fair balance between the means used and the intended aims. Where parties are affected, the transitional arrangements must be fair and reasonable.
Procedures for disciplining, including suspension and ultimate strike-off, must follow fair procedures and have an objectively justifiable basis.
Charter of Fundamental Rigths
The Charter of Fundamental Freedoms declares that every person has a right to engage in work and pursue a freely chosen and accepted occupation. Every citizen of the Union has the freedom to seek employment, to work and to exercise the right of establishment and provide services in any member state. Nationals of third countries who are authorised to work in the territories of the EU are entitled to work conditions equivalent to those of EU citizens.
The Court of Justice has recognised that the right to engage in business is equivalent to a property right under the European Convention on Human Rights. The issue has arisen in a number of instances where legislation restricts the exercise of a particular profession or trade.
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