Irish Supreme Court finds prisoner entitled to pension arrears following successful constitutional challenge

A convicted rapist who brought a successful legal challenge against a law that prevented the payment of State pensions to prisoners in custody has been granted compensation by the Supreme Court, mainly consisting of unpaid pension arrears.

In July 2017, the Supreme Court found that Section 249.1 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 was unconstitutional. This legislation disqualifies anybody who is imprisoned in legal custody from being in receipt of various social welfare payments, including what is now referred to as the State Pension Contributory (SNC).

The Supreme Court stated that this amounted to an additional punishment imposed on a criminal which was not done so by the courts, and therefore it is a breach of the separation of powers as provided for in the Constitution.

Following this ruling, the Court declared that it would adjourn the case in order to facilitate any argument as to what order shall be made and to make a decision as to how much damages the plaintiff could be awarded.

The man in question had been convicted of the repeated rape and sexual assault of a family member and was sentenced to imprisonment in 2011. He had made PRSI contributions during his time in employment, and upon his retirement in 2005 he was a recipient of the SNC. This payment stopped after he entered prison as per S.249.1 of the 2005 Act.

He contended that without his State pension, he did not have sufficient money for items from the prison tuck shop, such as coffee, clothes or electrical items, and also pointed to the fact that other prisoners were accessing private pensions. His weekly prison allowance only amounted to €11.90 per week as he was not able to engage in prison labour due to his age.

After further consideration was given as to the appropriate remedy, the Court settled on an amount of €10,000 in compensation, which included €7,500 in unpaid pension arrears. The Supreme Court has stated it’s expectation that the Oireachtas address this issue in a manner that is harmony with the Constitution.

Click here for the original 2017 judgement.

Click here to read previous PILA article regarding this case.




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