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Life Imprisonment without remission does not impair the right to seek furlough: SC

Written by Shaurya Mahajan

Today, The Supreme Court in the case of Atbir v State of NCT of Delhi decided that even if a person has been sentenced to life imprisonment without the right to seek remission, the right to seek furlough based on good conduct will not be foreclosed. 

The division bench comprising of Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Aniruddha Bose held that even if a prisoner is not to get remission and has to serve the sentence throughout his natural life, the right to seek furlough, which is an incentive towards good jail conduct, will remain intact. 

Neither would the requirements of good conduct be whittled down nor would the reformative approach and incentive for good conduct cease to exist, the Bench noted. 

The Court gave this decision while hearing an appeal against an order of the Delhi High Court which had dismissed a writ petition against the Director General of Prisons’ order declining the appellant’s prayer to grant furlough.

The prayer of the appellant was declined on the ground that while modifying his earlier sentence of death, the President had provided that the appellant would remain in prison ‘for the whole of the remainder of his natural life without parole and there shall be no remission of the term of imprisonment’. In view of this, the appellant was to serve the sentence of imprisonment for the whole of his natural life without parole and remission.

But, the appellant contended that the authorities and the High Court viewed the case from the wrong angle and declined the prayer based on a misconstruction of the Presidents’ order.

It was the appellant’s stand that furlough was an obvious consequence of a prisoner maintaining good conduct in prison, and therefore could not be denied only on the ground that he had to remain in prison for whole of the remainder of his natural life.

It was also stated appellant had languished in jail for about 26 years and taking away his right to be granted furlough ran contrary to the reformative approach.

The Court, on examining the issue, stated that it was difficult to agree that once the President provided that the appellant would remain in prison for whole of the reminder of his natural life without parole and without remission, all his other rights particularly those emanating from good jail conduct, would stand foreclosed.

It was also stated that the order of the President barred parole and remission but significantly, did not mention the treatment of entitlement towards furlough.

While drawing a contrast between parole and furlough, the Bench clarified its decision that in furlough, the prisoner is deemed to be serving the sentence as opposed to parole which is akin to temporary suspension of sentence.

The Court emphasised that depriving the concession of furlough and taking away an incentive for good conduct would not only be counter-productive, but an antithesis to the reformative approach.

The Apex Court however, observed that whether furlough has to be granted in a given case or not is an entirely different matter which has to be considered by the authorities on its own merits. 

Therefore, while disapproving of the blanket denial of furlough to the appellant, the case was left open for examination by the concerned authorities.

The Court accordingly directed the Director General of Prisons take a decision in the matter expeditiously, preferably within two months.

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