The landmark decision – which will likely have far-reaching implications for the rest of Europe – stems from Herrou’s lawsuit challenging his conviction for smuggling migrants across the Franco-Italian border, and calling for an end to the “criminalisation of solidarity”.
The Constitutional Court found that Herrou could not be prosecuted for aiding migrants under the “principle of fraternity”, which is one of the three values that make up France’s national motto: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.
“The principle of fraternity confers the freedom to help others, for humanitarian purposes, regardless of the legality of their presence on national territory,” the court wrote in its decision.
Herrou, an olive farmer, became something of a folk hero in 2017 after he was fined €3,000 for providing assistance to dozens of migrants in the Roya Valley, which stretches along the border between France and Italy.
The area emerged as a sanctuary for migrants after the French government tightened border controls in 2015 in an effort to stem the flow of people arriving illegally in the country.
Herrou, like many other local residents, said he felt it was his civic duty to provide food, shelter, and other aid to migrants fleeing poverty and war back home.
Following his conviction, Herrou was unapologetic for his actions, saying that he would continue to provide aid to migrants in open defiance of French law.
After unsuccessfully appealing his sentence, Herrou filed suit with the Constitutional Court. His legal team welcomed Friday’s decision as an “immense victory”.
“The principle of fraternity has been recognised. If a helping hand is selflessly extended to a foreigner, it should not be punished,” Patrice Spinosi, a lawyer for Herrou, told AFP.