• Legis Scriptor

M.H. Hoskot v. State of Maharashtra, 1978 AIR 1548, 1979 SCR (1) 192

Authored by Pavitra Somani

Keywords: Legal aid, legal assistance, equal opportunity, personal liberty, procedure established by law, fair trial, appeal, special leave petition.

CASE ANALYSIS: M.H. Hoskot v. State of Maharashtra, 1978 AIR 1548, 1979 SCR (1) 192.


Legal aid and assistance means making the free regular services available to the ones who cannot practically afford the legal assistance, such as the poor and the weakest sections of society. This assistance is to provide them with a defence of lawyer to represent them in cases or any legal procedure being carried out in the Courts of Law for fair and unbiased justice.

This article is a review of an important landmark judgement, M. H. Hoskot v. State of Maharashtra[1] which established the importance of the legal aid and assistance in the country and served as a settled judgement in many other cases by applying it through its relevancy.


In India, Article 39A of the Constitution states the state to ensure and provide legal system which provides equal opportunities for justice, including the free legal aid and assistance to the needy through the specific provisions and legislations. It is also the duty of the state to look after that no person is denied justice due to any economic disabilities or any other debilities.

The other Article of the Constitution such as Article 14, 21, 38 also establish that state has to guarantee the equality before law and should promote and protect the social order. Article 21 also provides for the personal liberty which helps promoting justice and making a fair and biased run on the road of Justice.

Name of the Case: M. H. Hoskot v. State of Maharashtra



Madhav Hayawadanrao Hoskot



State of Maharashtra


1978 AIR 1548, 1979 SCR (1) 192

Date of Judgement:

17th August, 1978


V. R. Krishnaiyer, D. A. Desai and O. Chinnappa Reddy. (J)

Concerned provisions of law:

Sections 417, 467, 468, 471, and 511 of Indian Penal Code.

Section 304 and Section 363 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

Articles 19, 21, 22, 136, 142 and 39-A of the Constitution of India.

Facts and Procedural History;

Dr. Madhav Hayawadanrao Hoskot, the petitioner, was a reader in the Saurashtra University and a Ph.D holder of Karnataka University. He approached and went to a block maker of Bombay and gave order to prepare a counterfeit seal in the name of Karnataka University and forged a letter of authority signed by the personal assistant to the Vice Chancellor of the University which authorised him to get the seal made. He was therefore booked for many serious offences one of which was the offence of forgery.

The block maker suspecting something wrong gave pre –emptive information of this act to the police due to which the matter went to the courts and a trial was conducted in the Sessions Court, which found M. H. Hoskot, the petitioner guilty of under the charges of Sections 417, 467, 468, 471, and 511 of Indian Penal Code (IPC) and was pronounced the punishment of soft simple imprisonment till the rising of the court.

After this the petitioner and the State, both filed different appeals in the High Courts of their respective regions. The petitioner contended against the one day imprisonment according to his conviction. The State opposed the punishment of simple imprisonment for such serious offence. Here, the High Court, dismissed the appeal of petitioner and pronounced him an increased sentence of three years of full imprisonment.

The petitioner through the Special Leave Petition appealed in Supreme Court of India in 1974 i.e. after the four years of imprisonment although the High Court gave the judgement in 1973. This delay is reasoned due to the late delivery of the copy of the judgement to the petitioner by the High Court i.e. in 1978.


· Whether or not the appeal made under the Special Leave Petition is maintainable in the Supreme Court?

· Whether or not the right to free legal aid is provided and guaranteed to the prisoners under Article 21 of the Constitution of India?



Petitioner applied for the copy of the judgement through jail authorities under Section 363(2) and Section 387 of Code of criminal procedure on 10th December 1973. The counsel contended that the copy of the judgement even after being received by the jail authorities was not delivered to him which violated his right to move to the Supreme Court through the Special leave petition and therefore he had to file condonation petition after he received the certified copy of the judgement by the High Court. He denies that a copy of the judgement was delivered to him and also showcased that the he did not sign the register for receiving the copy of judgement.


The respondents contended that a clerk did deliver the copy of judgement to the prisoner but took it back to attach and enclose the copy to the government for remission of sentence with mercy petition.


Ratio decidendi:

The Special leave petition was dismissed by the Supreme Court in its judgement, citing that matters related to public importance or affecting the conscience of the court are taken under Article 136 of the Constitution exceptionally.

It was observed that freedom is what freedom does. It discussed that personal liberty is a Fundamental right given to the person under Article 21 of the Constitution where the ‘procedure established by law’ means the procedure which is fair and reasonable. Hence, the first appeal to the High Court from the Sessions Court under Code for Criminal Procedure demonstrates the value sustained in Article 21.

Taking in the view, the precedent, Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India[2], Article 19 along with Article 21 as in the case, the bench observed that fair legal procedures are included in the personal liberty.

The responsibilities of the State includes the provision of free legal service if the prisoner is unable or indigent or disabled from securing such legal assistance under Article 21. And decided that the copy of the judgement should have been provided to the prisoner in time for the fair procedure to file an appeal.

According to the Articles 142, 194 read with Article 21 and 39-A of the Constitution of India that the Constitution gives the power to the Courts to assign a lawyer for the imprisoned individual for full justice if the prisoner sentenced punishment of imprisonment is unable to perform his statutory or constitutional right of appeal including special permission to appear. This is also allowed under Article 136 of the Indian Constitution.

It was perceived that under Article 21 the accused is entitled to a lawyer in the peremptory sense limited to the situations of prison, not in under Article 22(1) through permissive sense.

The prison administration will have to make all the necessary facilities available to the prisoner who seeks to file a review or appeal.

Obiter Dicta:

· According to the economic conditions of the appellant which were beyond the making a ling from criminal means it was unanticipated that the Public Prosecutor should have consented less punishment of conviction from the State’s side.

· Supreme Court being the last and the highest court of justice, an extra solicitude is pursued by every party in person.

· It was remarked that there was a confusion between nominal punishment for serious offense and correctional approach to treatment in prison by the Trial Court, and this confusion led to decriminalising serious social and economic offences.

· The white collar offenders should be sternly viewed by the administration and they should be endorsed by giving them punishment for name sake.

· Criminological basis of punishment is the social defence.


This judgement of M.H. Hoskot v. State of Maharashtra[3] is applied and is being used as a precedent in many cases. It laid down the rights of the prisoners to the free legal aid for the first time in India under the personal liberty guaranteed to persons under Article 21 of the Constitution. It was also ruled in the case that the needy, poor people unable to access the legal assistance to be provided free legal aid by the respective states. This case has broadened and widened the scope of Article 21 with Article 14 and 19 and also has touched the issue of delay in procedures and justice.



· Constitution of India, 1950

· Indian Penal Code,1860

· Code of Criminal Procedure,1973

Foot Notes:

[1] M. H. Hoskot v. State of Maharashtra ,1978 AIR 1548, 1979 SCR (1) 192. [2] Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India,1978 AIR 597, 1978 SCR(2) 621 [3] 1978 AIR 1548, 1979 SCR (1) 192.