Libertatem Magazine

Supreme Court Ruling Clarifies the Difference Between ‘Parole’ and ‘Furlough’

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Courts have weighed the differences between “furlough” and “parole” and the principles relating to their grant.

Facts of the case

Asaram Sai’s son, Narayan Sai, a self-proclaimed godman and rape convict serving a life sentence in a 2014 murder case, was granted two weeks’ furlough in respect of a judgement of the Gujarat High Court. The State of Gujarat filed an appeal against this judgment. 

In response to the DGP’s refusal of his furlough application, the convict had approached the High Court.

Arguments advanced

Regarding the Bombay Furlough and Parole Rules, the bench noted that they did not confer a legal right on prisoners to be released on furlough. Furloughs are governed by Rule 3 and Rule 4. For prisoners serving different levels of prison time, Rule 3 outlined the eligibility criteria for granting furlough, whereas Rule 4 specified the limitations. The phrase “may be released” in Rule 3 indicated that there was no absolute right. Furthermore, Rule 17 stated that the Rules did not confer any legal right on a prisoner to request a furlough.

Moreover, the Court noted that the Jail Superintendent had given a negative opinion due to the fact that the respondent had tried to call the outside world from inside the jail illegally.

Court’s Observations

The bench observed that two competing interests needed to be balanced when considering a request for parole or furlough- reforming the convict and satisfying the public purpose and interests of society on the one hand and, on the other hand, granting the request for parole or furlough.

The Court further observed that in the order dated 8 May 2021, a number of factors had been cited that suggest the release of the respondent on furlough might lead to a violation of public peace. Convict and his followers were specifically mentioned in the order as a threat to the complainant and other deponents. An attempt was made to threaten and intimidate the investigators and witnesses. Attempts were made to bribe government officials during the trial.

Court’s Orders

The Bench opined that a genuine need to care for his mother led to the respondent’s release earlier this year. In light of the observations made, the Court held that they could not conform to the reasoning of the High Court. 

Thus, Judges DY Chandrachud and BV Nagarathna outlined the broad principle difference between parole and furlough. Furlough and parole envisage a short-term temporary release from custody. While parole is granted for the prisoner to meet a specific exigency, furlough may be granted after a stipulated number of years have been served without any reason. The grant of furlough is to break the monotony of imprisonment and to enable the convict to maintain continuity with family life and integration with society. Although furlough can be claimed without a reason, the prisoner does not have an absolute legal right to claim furlough. Thus, the grant of furlough must be balanced against the public interest and can be refused to certain categories of prisoners.

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