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Understanding the Doctrine of Legitimate Expectations: Legal Principles and Practical Implications

The Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation is a legal principle that protects individuals' expectations arising from the promises, representations, or established practices of public authorities. It is commonly used in administrative law to ensure fairness and justice in the actions of government bodies. When a public authority creates a legitimate expectation in a person, it may be required to act in a manner consistent with that expectation unless there is a compelling reason to depart from it. This doctrine varies by jurisdiction, but it generally seeks to prevent public authorities from acting arbitrarily or unfairly.

This doctrine does not provide a legal right to the individual but can hold the authority accountable if the imposed duty is violated. Hence, it is a measure of safeguarding the public against a policy decision that may affect them.

The doctrine of legitimate expectation is classified as procedural or substantive. The procedural legitimate expectation is related to the application of the principles of natural justice in administrative law. It pertains to the expectation of the individual having a right to a certain procedure due to a particular behaviour of the authority.

On the other hand, substantive legitimate expectation refers to a situation in which the individual pursues a benefit due to a legitimate expectation that they had. Although the principles and practices of the former are well-established in most countries, the legal standing of the latter is still unclear.

3 Key considerations by Court:
  • Whether a legitimate expectation has arisen.
  • Whether it would be unlawful for the authority to frustrate such an expectation.
  • If it is found that the authority has done so, what remedies are available to the aggrieved person.

The Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation was first developed in England in the early 1970s. In Schmidt v. of State Home Affairs, the term "legitimate expectation " was first mentioned, in 1968, while rejecting the assertion for a hearing. Although the term was not used, other cases used the principle without significantly analying it's scope. For example in Regina v. Liverpool Corporation ex part Liverpool Taxi Fleet Operators Association, it was judged that in increasing the number of taxi licenses without consulting the taxi operators association, was expected, as was expected, was not justified.

Development of Doctrine of Legitimate Expectations in India
The Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation was firstly discussed in the Indian arena in the case of State of Kerala v. K.G. Madhavan Pillai ((1988) 4 SCC 669). Herein a sanction was issued for the respondents to open a new aided school and to upgrade the existing schools, however, an Order was issued 15 days later to keep the previous sanction in abeyance. This Order was challenged by the respondents in lieu of violation of principles of natural justice. The Supreme Court ruled that the sanction had entitled the respondents with legitimate expectation and the second order violated principles of natural justice.

In Union of India v. Hindustan Development Corporation ((1993) 3 SCC 499), the Supreme Court has dealt with the doctrine in great detail, starting with the explanation of the scope of the doctrine in Halsbury's Laws of England, Fourth Edition, Volume I (I) 151 which says that a person can have a legitimate expectation of being treated in a certain fashion even though he doesn't have a legal right to receive the same.

The Navjyoti Co-operative Group Housing Society Vs UOI took a similar decision, wherein the Apex Court held that changing the criteria requirement for allotment of land to co-operative societies was violating them of their legitimate expectation, their benefit ascertained to them hence adversely affecting them, and are therefore entitled to a fair hearing.

Types of Legitimate Expectations:
  1. Procedural Legitimate Expectation:
    Denotes the existence of some process right the applicant claims to possess as a result of behavior by the public body that generates the expectation.
  2. Substantive Legitimate Expectation:
    Refers to the situation in which the applicant seeks a particular benefit or commodity, such as a welfare benefit or license. The claim to such a benefit will be founded upon governmental action which is said to justify the existence of the relevant expectation. Some of the arguments in favor of substantive legitimate expectations are: it creates fairness in public administration, reliance, and trust in government, the principle of equality, upholds rule of law.

Article 14 And Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation
In India The Doctrine has been under Article 14 of the Constitution. Under this article this states constitutional provision imposes the duty to act fairly on all public authorities and therefore, people can have legitimate expectation that they will be treated fairly by the states. Thus 'non-arbitrariness and unreasonableness' have been made the necessary qualifiers for assessing as to whether there was a denia. Of Legitimate Expectation or not.

Recent Cases:
  • M/S.K.B.Tea Product Pvt.Ltd. vs Commercial Tax Officer,Siliguri (2023)
  • Najma v. Govt. Of Nct of Delhi (2021)
  • Mohamed Abdul Nayeem Zakee, vs The State Of Telengana (2020)
  • Manish Sharma vs Bank Of India (2022)
  • The State of Jharkhand v. Brahmaputra Metallic Ltd. (2020)
  • Harish Raikwar vs The State Of Madhya Pradesh (2022)
The Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation serves as a crucial element in administrative law, ensuring fairness and justice in the actions of public authorities. It emphasizes that when individuals have a legitimate expectation based on promises, representations, or established practices of government bodies, those authorities should typically act in a manner consistent with those expectations, unless there are compelling reasons to do otherwise. This doctrine is essential in preventing public authorities from acting arbitrarily or unfairly, thereby upholding the principles of administrative fairness and legal justice.

  • M.P. Jain, Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation, Volume 1 (2018)
  • B.N. Pandey, Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation, Banaras. Law Journal, Volume 31 (2002)
  • I pleaders:
  • Research gate:
  • Indian kanoon (all cases)
Written By: Rajat Meena. Student of University of Law, Mohanlal Sukhadia University, Udaipur (Raj.).

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