Wednesday 17 July 2019

Former solicitor Michael Lynn challenges refusal to give him disability benefit over Brazil prison experience

Michael Lynn was extradited. Picture: Collins
Michael Lynn was extradited. Picture: Collins

Tim Healy

Former solicitor Michael Lynn, who is on bail awaiting trial on multi-million euro theft charges, has brought a High Court challenge to a refusal to grant him disability benefit.

He claims he is entitled to it over the effects of severe mental trauma he suffered while being held four four and a half years in a Brazilian prison.

Mr Lynn (50) claims he needs ongoing treatment because of the conditions and treatment he endured in Cotel remand prison, Recife.   They included extortion and constant threats, including one threat by other prisoners to kill him. 

He was also held in a small cell with up to 50 other prisoners, some of whom were openly using drugs, he claims. On one occasion, another prisoner sitting near him was stabbed.

He lost 15kg in weight, showed signs of shortness of breath and was later diagnosed with a lung condition. 

He claims the Irish Embassy in Brazil only visited him three times and showed a lack of concern for him.  He says it was only when the Dutch Embassy intervened that he got a visit from our embassy staff.

His lawyers were given leave on Monday by the High Court to challenge the refusal of the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection to approve disability benefit for him.   He is currently on social welfare and he remains on bail with his trial on theft charges due to take place next year.

He was extradited from Brazil last year on a number of charges including  the theft of €4.1m from Irish Nationwide Building Society on April 4, 2007 and €3.6m from Ulster Bank on October 20, 2006.

He was eventually granted €100,000 independent bail with conditions including that  he sign on daily at a garda station and observe a 9pm to 6am curfew and He must also reside at  Carlton Square, Maynooth, Co Kildare, where he lives with his wife Brid Murphy who returned from Brazil last year with their four children.

Earlier this year, the High Court heard, he made an application for disability benefit on grounds he was suffering severe mental trauma due to the conditions he suffered in Cotel and which he was still suffering from.

One of the grounds for granting disability benefit is that a person must be a habitual resident of this state for a year and Mr Lynn had not met this criterion, the court heard.

His application was refused by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection last March.  He applied for a review of that decision but that was also refused he says, by the same person, who made the original decision.

When he asked for a further review by an independent person, that was also refused.

He says while his application was examined by a medical assessor, he was not asked to attend this assessor and did not know whether the assessor involved was a psychiatrist or other medical professional.

Mr Lynn's counsel said he had received treatment and medications while in Cotel prison and he continues to receive those treatments as he suffers from panic attacks and shortness of breath.

He seeks orders quashing the decision to refuse his application on the basis that no meaningful explanation was given for it.  It is also because he was never examined by the department's medical assessor even though there were ample basis from reports to show what he was suffering from, it is claimed

He also seeks declarations there was a breach of fair procedures.  He further seeks an order compelling the Minister to conduct a review by an independent person.

His counsel also said he is concerned the Department will cut off his social welfare payments which he has been receiving so far on the basis he is unfit for work.

Mr Justice Michael McGrath granted leave to bring judicial review proceedings over the refusal following a one-side only represented application from his lawyers.

He declined to grant a stay on the Department stopping his social welfare because the judge said this part of the application was based on what might happen.  His lawyers would have to make such an application on notice to the Department, he said.

The case comes back in October.

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