Hostess bars win their fight against the City of Liège

Hostess bars win their fight against the City of Liège

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Lhe Council of State has decided, after several twists and turns, to cancel the Liège tax-regulation which triples the amount which the owners of hostess bars must pay annually.

Thus, referring mainly to budgetary reasons and the fact that this activity entails costs for the City linked to the security of the district, the latter had increased the tax, at the beginning of last year, to 15,000 euros. The applicants considered that they were going to have to choose between the end of their activities or an increase in the rents of the prostitutes, which would have made them take the risk of criminal proceedings.

The owners had first turned to the Council of State, and the auditor had given an opinion in their favour, considering that the tripling of the tax was not motivated enough. The City had then, knowing that the auditor is often followed, modified the tax by-law by justifying the increase at greater length. A second appeal was then lodged, against the new version.

In its conclusions, the City considered first of all that the owners of salons did not have a legitimate interest in the recourse since by drawing a profit from prostitution, they were acting illegally. The Council of State replied that it is not legally competent to declare a person guilty of an offense and cannot therefore, without disregarding the presumption of innocence, contest the legitimate interest in acting of an applicant on the ground that he would have violated criminal law – at least until such a violation has been definitively established by the competent criminal court. Moreover, the new sexual penal code, adopted shortly after the vote on the Liège tax on bars, no longer makes it an offense to rent property to a prostitute, provided that the rent is not unreasonable.

Basically, the owners of salons believed that the City was acting in this way to remove the very last bars dedicated to prostitution in Liège, thus ending a movement launched some fifteen years ago when the salons in the Cathedral district were closed. North. They invoked the unpredictability of the measure and the fact that it is contrary to economic law.

The City had replied, by the voice of Me Delobbe, that the amount of the tax had been modeled on the circular relating to the development of the budgets of the municipalities of the Walloon Region, which proposes a maximum of 18,750 euros. But this circular has only an indicative value and has a general and abstract scope, replied Me Molders-Pierre and Me Pesesse for the applicants, recalling that the commission on the fight against trafficking in human beings, in the House of representatives, advocated the abolition of this tax. The works for the installation of the tram, they added, limit the clientele of Liège, which would have become rare over the years.

The Council of State followed them in considering that the regional circular did not exonerate the author of the contested tax regulation from verifying the proportionality of the measure, a rate not being equally appropriate for each municipality. “The tripling of the tax results in the amount of the annual charges borne being approximately equivalent to that of the turnover announced in their accounts”, notes the judgment rendered, which pinpoints that the period was already characterized by restrictions of activities related to the health crisis. The tripling of the tax “is based on insufficiently established reasons in fact and in law”, and this act is therefore annulled.

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