Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation

The doctrine of Legitimate Expectation is one of the tools which is used by the Courts to review the executive actions. This doctrine deals with the relationship between an individual and a public authority. According to this doctrine, a person has a reasonable expectation to be treated in a particular way by the administrative authorities owing to some consistent practice in the past or an express promise by the concerned authority. It is not a legal right as it has not been mentioned in any statute or Constitution. This doctrine developed in the case of Council of Civil Service Unions and Others vs Minister for the Civil Service[1].

In the 1980s, the United Kingdom was ruled by Conservative government under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher. The government came up with an order that all employees of Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) cannot join any trade union.

The council of Civil Service Unions challenged this order in the Court of Law. The High Court of Justice ruled that order was invalid. The Court of Appeal overturned the decision. The case was then heard at the House of Lords. It was held that the decision of the public authority should affect the person in such a way that:

  1. His/her right or obligations are altered, which are enforceable by or against him/her
  2. He/she has been deprived of some benefit which he had been permitted by the authorizing body in the past and which he/she legitimately expects to enjoy until a valid ground for withdrawal of the same is communicated to him/her or if he/she has been assured by the decision-making authority that such benefit would not be withdrawn until they are given the opportunity of contending reasons as to why they were withdrawn.

Who can invoke the Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation?

The doctrine of Legitimate Expectation can be invoked only by the person who has some previous dealing or transaction with an authority. It can also be invoked by the person who has a legal relationship with the authority. A stranger who has no previous dealing or transaction with the authority cannot invoke the doctrine of legitimate expectation, on the ground that the authority has an obligation to act fairly.

Development of Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation in India

Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation in India was first mentioned in the case of State of Kerala vs Madhavan Pillai[2].

In this case the government issued a sanction to the respondent to open new aided schools and to upgrade the existing schools. After 15 days an order was issued to suspend the previous order. This order was challenged by Madhavan Pillai on the ground that it violates the principles of natural justice. The Supreme Court held that the sanction has created legitimate expectation in the mind of the respondent and the second order violates the principle of natural justice.

Another important case which is related to the Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation is the case of The Scheduled Caste and Weaker Section Welfare Association vs State of Karnataka and Ors.[3] In this case, the government issued a notification stating that the areas where slum schemes would be introduced. However, after a few days the notification was amended, and some areas were removed. The court held that when the new notification was made, quashing the earlier notification without hearing the affected parties, it was a violation of the principle of natural justice. The earlier notification had raised legitimate expectations in the people who were living in slums which were left out and hence it cannot be taken away without a fair hearing. 

Navjyoti Coop. Group Housing Society vs Union of India[4]. In this case, new criteria for allotment of land were challenged. According to the original policy, allotment was made on the basis of date of registration. In 1990, the policy was changed and a new criteria was developed. According to this new policy, allotment would be made depending upon the date of approval of the final list. The Supreme Court held that Housing Societies were entitled to legitimate expectation owing to the consistent practice in the past, in matters related to allotment. The court also held that an opportunity should have been given to the Housing Societies by way of public notice as they were the ones who were going to be affected by the change in policy.  

[1] AIR (1985) AC 374

[2] AIR 1989 SC 49

[3] AIR (1991)2 SCC 604

[4] AIR (1992) 4 SCC 477

Aishwarya Says:

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