Prisoner cries foul over his slashed pension
‘Forfeiture amounts to inhuman treatment’
A prisoner who is receiving half his pension is claiming his human rights are being blatantly breached.
He is insisting that the automatic reduction of half one’s pension when a married person is serving time in jail amounts to discrimination because he had paid all his social security contributions during his working life. Moreover, his wife was expected to live on just half the pension, which amounts to inhuman treatment, also in breach of her fundamental human rights.
Paul Hili, 62, and his wife Marianne, filed an application before the Constitutional Court in which they asked the court to declare that article 91 of the Social Security Act, which stipulates this forfeiture, was in breach of the Constitution.
Mr Hili, who had been president of the General Workers’ Union port section, was sentenced to 12 years in jail in 2008 over the attempted murder of a man in a fit of road rage.
The incident happened on February 27, 2003, in St Francis Street, Sliema, when he hit motorist Victor Testa on the head with a wooden plank numerous times.
The victim, in his 20s, required 17 stitches to his head and underwent surgery to repair damage to his skull. He suffered a 15 per cent permanent disability.
While in jail, Mr Hili applied for a pension when he reached pensionable age and this was granted in February last year. However, he was informed this month that, since he was a prisoner, his wife would be receiving half of what he was due in pension and government bonuses.
He was also informed that, once he served his time, the full pension would be issued. His lawyer, Toni Abela, argued that the arbitrary decision by the state to halve the pension because someone was in jail meant that Mr Hili was being subjected to a double punishment.
He also contended that Mrs Hili was suffering and had done nothing wrong to deserve it.
Mr Hili claimed he was being discriminated against because he, like everyone else who received a pension, had paid all his contributions.
Dr Abela said that this direct forfeiture of half a prisoner’s pension amounted to his clients’ inhuman treatment, especially in Mr Hili’s case, who was shouldering a burden that was greater than the one to which he was condemned.
The Hilis called on the Constitutional Court to order the revocation of this forfeiture and the reimbursement of the deducted pension payments so far.
The bone of contention
The Hilis are complaining that article 91 of the Social Security Act is in breach of the Constitution. This article states:
“A person shall be disqualified from receiving a pension, benefit, allowance or assistance payable under (the Social Security) Act for any period during which he is undergoing imprisonment or detention in pursuance of a sentence passed on conviction from an offence:
“Provided that where such person would have been in receipt of the allowances payable under articles 76, 76A and 79, such allowances shall, during any such period, be paid to the head of household with whom the child or person, in respect of whom such allowance is being paid, is living.
“Provided further that where such person is a married man who would have been entitled to a pension under this Act, and who, immediately prior to being sentenced as above, was not having the provisions of article 96 applied to him, his wife shall be entitled to receive half the pension which would have been payable to her husband had he not been disqualified under the provisions of this article, provided she is not already entitled to a pension under this Act in her own right.”