Madhav Hayawadanrao Hoskot v. State of Maharashtra

Name of the CaseM.H. Hoskta V. State of Maharashtra
CitationAIR 1978 SCC 1548, (1978) 3 SCC 544.
Year of the case1978
RespondentState of Maharashtra
Bench /JudgesJustice V.R.Krishna Iyer, Justice D.A. Desai, Justice O. Chinnappa Reddy.
Act involvedConstitution, Code of Criminal Procedure
Important Sections and ArticlesArticle 14, 21, 136  of the Constitution, Section 304,363 of Crpc.


The case M.H.Hoskta v. State of Maharashtra is the first case where the right to free legal aid was discussed and concluded that it is important to aware the poor people with their Constitutional and Statutory rights. And also it is the responsibility of the State to provide legal services to the poor section of the society who can’t afford the charges of the Court. This case  also relates how the Fundamental Rights of the citizens where violated by not providing the free legal aid services to the indigent people. Some case laws are mentioned related to this case as well which also explains the legal aid services.


Legal Assistance means to provide free legal services to the poor or the weakest section of the society who cannot afford to taking the defence of lawyer to carry out the case or any legal procedure related to Court of Justice or any Judicial authority or before any Court of Law. Also the Article 39A of the Indian Constitution talks about the free legal aid services that is the State shall ensure the operation of the legal system should be based on the equal opportunities and will provide free legal assistance to ensure the opportunities and Justice not denied to any citizen for reason of economic problem or any other disability.

Also, there are different Articles in the Indian Constitution like the Article 14 which talks about the Equality before Law which means The State shall not deny to any citizen equality before law or equal protection of law within the territory of India which helps to promote justice on the basis of equal opportunities for all. Also the Preamble of the Indian Constitution aims at guarantee the Social, Economical and Political Justice to all the sections of the Society. Article 38(1) of the Indian Constitution says that It’s the duty of the State to promote the well being of people by ensuring and protecting the Justice of the Citizens. Also it’s the duty of the State to provide appropriate legislation or plans to guarantee that the Justice should not be denied by the reason of economic problem or any other disabilities.

Background of the Case

UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights –

It provides the support of free legal aid to poor people in criminal proceedings. But the Article 14 of the Indian Constitution talks about the Equality before Law which interprets that the legal aid should be given to those persons how won’t  be able to understand or speak the language used in Courts. There are also several principles adopted by United Nations for the Operations of legal assistance in the Indian Constitution. Also the Article 8[1] and Article 10[2] of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that all persons have the right to effective remedy by the Contempt authorities for the violation of the fundamental rights given by the  Constitution and all citizens have the right to fair and public hearing before an independent Court for the declaration of their rights and obligations and any Criminal charges against them.

Constitution and Statutory Provisions discussed

Indian Constitution

Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC)


  • Petitioner, H.M. Hoskot who claimed to be an M. Sc and Ph. D, around 30 years old has charged with the offense of attempting to concoct degree certificates of the University and was found guilty of offenses under the different Sections of the Indian Penal Code.
  • The trial Court punished him with the simple imprisonment and fine on the grounds that he belonged to the middle and emphasis that the corrective aspect of punishment cannot be ignored.
  • The Appellant appeals the Case in the State High Court for the Conviction and also against the sentence. The High Court dismissed the appeal of Conviction and allowed the imprisonment of three years.
  • The Judgement was pronounced in 1973 and the Special Leave Petition (SLP) was filled in the Supreme Court of India after the 4 years and the reason given for the delay was that the High Court granted the copy of judgement in 1978.


Whether the right of free legal aid should be given under the Article 21 of the Indian Constitution who are imprisoned?


Contentions of the Petitioner:

  • The Petitioner applied under the Crpc for the copy of judgement through the jail authorities which was received by them but was never delivered to him because of which he won’t be able to appeal by special leave. So, he come up with a condonation petition after getting the certified copy from the High Court.
  • Also the Petitioner denies that the copy which was delivered to him was not registered as he does not bear sign of receipt of the copy of the Judgement of the High Court.

Contentions of the Respondent:

  • The Prison Superintendent says that the clerk has delivered it to the prisoner but took it back with mercy petition to the Governor for the remission of the sentence.

Ratio Decidedi

  • Article 21 of the Indian Constitution talks about the Right to life and the personal liberty – No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law, which means the fair and the reasonable procedure.
  • Article 19 reads with the Article 21 in the case Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India [3] Which laid down that the personal liberty cannot be ignored without the fair and reasonable legal procedure.
  • Copy of judgement should be given to the prisoner in time so that in case of appeal he can file case in superior court as well. Free legal assistance should be provided to the prisoners who are poor or with other disabilities as this is the responsibility of the State.
  • If a prisoner is unable to exercise his Constitutional and Statutory right of appeal including the free legal aid the Court has to assign a lawyer for the prisoner individual for doing Justice.
  • When the prisoner seeks for appeal, it’s the duty of the prison administration to provide facilities for the exercise of such rights.
  • The Court shall not deviate the request under Article 136 of the Indian Constitution so that the Justice should be given to every litigator, civil and criminal floods.

Obiter Dicta

  • The Appellant was not the Criminal and therefore it is surprising that the Public Prosecutor shouldnot have reduced the sentence of conviction for the grave charges on behalf of the State.
  • The Social defense is the basis of punishment. And in the present case the Trial Judge confuse the difference between the prison treatment and the nominal punishment om the decriminalizing serious social crimes.

Case laws Relevancy and Applicability

Hussainara khatoon v. State of Bihar[4]

The Supreme Court stated that right to free legal aid is the important under the Article 21 of the Indian Constitution for the person accused of any offence.

Khatri v. State of Bihar[5]

Here the Court stated that the State had the Constitutional mandate to provide free legal aid to an accused who cannot afford the legal services due to poor economic condition. For which the State will have uts financial limitations and priorities in spending but doesnot allow to deprive its citizens of Constitutional rights.

Suk Das v. Union Territory of Arunachal Pradesh [6]

In this case Justice P. N.Bhagwati stressed the needs of the legal assistance and also suggest to build the legal awareness for the weaker section of the society because they don’t know the rights provided to them in the Constitution. Even the literate people do not know their rights. So, because of lack of knowledge it is important to aware the public and make it easily accessible to the lawyer’s consult.


The Supreme Court ruled that the free legal assistance should be provided to all the poor defendants irrespective of the seriousness of the crime attributed. Also for the proper  delivery of Justice the legal assistance should not be provided only in the trail stage but in all the three tier.

This was the first case where right to free legal aid was considered. While delivering the Judgement Justice Krishna Iyer took Article 14 (3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights into consideration which explains the importance of legal aid of an poor accused. In this case, the Petitioner argued himself and didnot claim legal aid. Because of poverty and illiteracy in India people won’t be able to protect and defend their rights so it was concluded that right to legal aid as an inalienable element of fair procedure.



[1] Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the Contempt national tribunal for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by law.

[2] Everyone is entitled in full equality to fair and public hearing by independent and impartial tribunal.

[3] Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India. (1978) 1 SCR 621

[4] Hussainara khatoon v. State of Bihar (1980) 1 SCC 98.

[5] Khatri v. State of Bihra AIR (1981) SC  262

[6] Suk Das v. Union Territory of Arunachal Pradesh. AIR (1986)SC 991