Doctrine Of Legitimate Expectation Under Administrative Law

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“A man should keep his words. All the more so when the promise is not just a mere promise but is made with the intention that the other party should act upon it.” It means that the administrative law is so overarching in nature and is categorized with number of works, multiple doctrines have been formulated to ensure and to maintain proper check and balance on the functioning of the administration. The doctrine of ‘legitimate expectations’ is one tool amongst the other tools that has been incorporated by the court. The court has incorporated the same to review the action of administration as well as to maintain good relationship between an individual and public authority. The doctrine lies within the public domain. The main aim of this doctrine is to give relief to the people who may have sort of reasonable expectation regarding some consistent past practice which might have been violated and are unable to justify their claims.[1] It’s something different from anticipation, desire and hope rather it is something between right and no right. In public law the question of doctrine arises when reasonable expectations are not met out whereas in private law it comes into picture when the rights are being violated. The doctrine of legitimate expectation is an epitome of judicial creativity and the same could be derived from Article 14 of the Indian Constitution.[2]


A person may have a reasonable or legitimate expectation for being treated by the administrative authority. In this case the person might not have legal claim to receive such treatment, still he may have legitimate expectation to get such benefits, advantages and privileges from the administrative authority.[3] Such expectation can arise in either of the two circumstances; one when something has been explicitly or impliedly promised by the authority and second when something has been continuing since long and is expected to be in practice.[4] For an example, the students of class tenth and twelfth of village A, B, C and D were benefitted in terms of books and other study material since five years under a government scheme but as sixth year began village A has been excluded from the scheme without any . In this case the reasonable expectation of the excluded village and the same is violated. Here the government might be held liable if the exclusion is unfair and unreasonable. In the above illustration the doctrine of legitimate expectations would apply because it is very clear that the act of the administration is likely to affect the principle of natural justice. This doctrine ensures good administration, fair treatment to the people, it also aims to avoid unfair, arbitrary and unreasonable act the administration. So, we may say that this doctrine has been developed in context of fairness, reasonableness and also on the principle of natural justice.[5] The society which has incorporated the concept of rule of law expect that when any act of the administration is either challenged or question; the public authority must be in a position to justify their actions as legally valid, socially just and wise. The main motive behind the development of same was to prevent the abuse of power and to protect democracy from deadly tentacles of unreasonableness and arbitrariness.[6] The doctrine may arise a) when there is an expressed promise or representation made by public authority b) existence of some practice and the same is expected to continue and c) when the promise or representation is clear and unambiguous.[7] The scope of judicial review may arise in two cases either a) when the claimant had been permitted to enjoy the benefit and which he expect to enjoy in future until the communication has been made for withdrawal on reasonable ground or b) an assurance had been made to claimant in past that he would be provided with an opportunity of being heard and also for advancing reasons for non-withdrawal of the policy or same.


The term ‘legitimate expectation’ was firstly used by Lord Denning in 1969 in the case of Schmidt v. Secretary of State for Home Affairs.[8] In the mentioned case the government had cut short the period which was initially granted to an alien to enter and stay in England. They had legitimate expectation of being allowed to stay for the time for which they had been permitted. But the alien students were refused extension of their permits as an act of policy by the Home Secretary. The court held that person had legitimate expectation to stay and the same cannot be violated without following any procedure which is reasonable, just and fair. Here, Lord Denning used the doctrine as an alternative to the word right.[9] However in the case of Breen v. Amalgamated Engineering Union[10], the doctrine found a significant place. In the aforementioned case Mr. Breen was involved but later absolved on the ground of misappropriating union funds. He was voted up in as shop steward but the district committee of a trade union had refused his election. Mr Breen contended that it was contrary to principle of natural justice. The Court of Appeal upheld Cusack J, that election could be rejected. Lord Denning gave dissenting opinion and later it was held that if a person claims for privilege, he might be left unheard, but a person can have something more than mere privilege and that his election will be approved unless the government has valid reason for doing so. And here the principle of natural justice is attracted to ensure fairness. The Privy Council in the case of A.G. of Hong Kong v. Ng Yuen Shiu[11], it was announced by the government that illegal immigration won’t be deported till their cases are considered individually and the applicant received deportation order without hearing. The court held that it was violating the doctrine as each case was to be decided on its own merit and hence the removal order cannot be passed without hearing. The doctrine is still evolving and hence the doctrine cannot be claimed as a matter of course. It’s flexible in nature and can be taken in account in each individual case.[12] In the matter of legitimate expectation that is beyond the powers of authority, the courts need to balance between public interest and individual interest.


The development of the doctrine of legitimate expectation is very recent in India. The way apex court has incorporated legal doctrines within the ambit of Indian climate and soil is highly tremendous. The doctrine was firstly discussed in the arena of India in the case of State of Kerela v K.G. Madhavan[13] wherein a sanction was issued for the respondent to open new unaided school and also to upgrade the existing schools. After 15 days of the prior notice a new order was issued to keep in abeyance with the old notice. The respondent challenged it on the ground that he was being left unheard. The court held that sanction had created legitimate expectation in the mind of respondent and the later order violated the same. The same doctrine was also applied in the case of Schedule Caste and Weaker Section Welfare Association v. State of Karnataka[14]. In this case the government came with notice which introduced slum clearance scheme. Later on subsequent notice was made with minor amendments ant the same excluded certain areas. The court held that initial notice had created legitimate expectation in the mind of mind of people whose area had been left out and they cannot be left out being unheard. In the case of Navjyoti Coop. Group Housing Society v. Union of India,[15] where the criteria for the allotment of land to cooperative society was changed from “serial number of registration” to that of “date of approval of list of members.” The Apex Court was in opinion that housing societies had an expectation owing to continuous practice and the court was in view that opportunity should have been given to the housing societies by way a public notice. However, in UT Chandigarh v. Dilbagh Singh[16] a Selection Board was appointed to fill up the vacancies of 32 conductors. Out of 446 candidates a list of 32 was prepared on basis of educational qualification and interview performance. The list was criticized on the ground of favouritism, nepotism and corruption. The appellant got the same checked found favouritism and nepotism but no evidence of corruption. Appellant appointed new board and 85% merit+15% interview was made the base. When the new board was to interview the respondent contented that no prior notice was given. The court held that select committee had no right of hearing but they have no indefeasible right to be appointed in absence of any rule to that effect. Elaborating the doctrine further in case of Punjab Communication Ltd. v. Union of India[17], it was observed that the doctrine can be substaintive as well as procedural. The procedural represents that the complainant must be heard and he must be given opportunity as to present why a decision could be withdrawn whereas the substantive a decision cannot be simply withdrawn but rational grounds must be communicated for doing so. The concept of Wednesbury Test (a general test that the authority should exercise discretionary power reasonably) was applied in this case to determine whether legitimate expectation has been denied or not. In International Trading case, the court applied the Wednesbury test and observed that “If a denial of legitimate expectation in a given case amounts to denial of a right guaranteed or is arbitrary, discriminatory, unfair or biased, gross abuse of power or violation of the principles of natural justice, the same can be questioned on the ground attracting Article 14 but a claim based on mere legitimate expectation without anything more cannot ipso facto give a right to invoke those principles”.In the case of T. Vijayalakshmi v. Town Planning Member[18], the appellant was the owners of agricultural right and as per law they could use the same for residential purposes. An application was being filed by them before the Planning Authority. Their application was rejected on the ground that the land might be used as a part of valley zone for some future purpose and hence the request was postponed. The court upheld the doctrine in this case and also held that the administrative authority cannot postpone the decision for indefinite period of time.


The government is expected to carry out the affairs without making unreasonable discrimination when two persons are in same situation and hence the doctrine has evolved as procedural as well as substantive right.[19] The question of reasonable expectation is matter of fact and could be decided on ground of larger public interest. The affairs must be fair and reasonable and government should not deviate from any past practice without giving valid reasons. They must provide the opposite party an opportunity to be heard. If denied, it would be the violation of natural justice as stated by Wade.[20] If any amendment or change in the policy is made and court upheld the same fair, just and reasonable, the same could be held valid. Hence, no question of legitimate expectation arises. The significance of the doctrine has been embedded in Article 14 of the Constitution[21] and hence non-arbitrariness and unreasonableness are the basic parameters that determine whether the legitimate expectation has been denied or not. It is also very well stated that by virtue of Article 13(2), any law made in the contravention of constitution is void. Therefore if any law which is arbitrary or unreasonable is void by virtue of Article 14 read with Article 13(2). The same concept was initially introduced by J. Bhagwati, wherein he stated that “equality is antithetic to arbitrariness”.[22]


The complainant is duty bound at first instance to justify that there is rationality behind his claim. Legitimacy is a question of fact and not legal right. It will be determined by the greater interest of public. If the court satisfies that a particular claim subjects to legitimate expectation, then the duty of authority to justify the claim arises. It is the duty of court to look into the matter and decide whether relief should given to complainant on the ground of doctrine or the decision authority should be declared valid. The presence of the doctrine in no way imposes obligation on the court to decide in favor of complainant.


The principle of the doctrine was finally settled by Supreme Court.[23] They are as follow: a) it is based on the principle of reasonableness and fairness and also on public interest b) it cannot be used to bring changes in administrative policy c) it is different from anticipation rather it should be reasonable d) it should be legitimate, justifiable and protectable e) it can be invoked as enforceable right f) it cannot be invoked in private interest that surpasses public right g) it goes hand in hand with principles of natural justice.


i) The concept has only procedural and not substantive impact. ii) It is not applicable to legislative actions. iii) Again it does not apply if it contradicts public interest or security of state.


The doctrine of legitimate expectation has been added with view that discretion must be exercised fairly and reasonably. The concept is very much in vogue and must not be collapsed due to misappropriate use. The argument that the concept is applicable only to procedural rights and not to substantive is still unanswered. The concept has been imported by Indian Courts undoubtedly and the same is giving locus standi to those who may or may not have legal right. In India also the concept leads to procedural aspect whereas substantive still at evolving stage. The same can traced in the case mentioned at initial discussions. The evolution of the doctrine could be traced in England. However it is now widely accepted in India, Canada, New Zealand and etc. Hence, one thing must be noted that a claim based on the doctrine without reasonable or legitimate expectation ipso facto does not give right to invoke the principle.

[24] I.P. Massey, Administrative Law 354 (Eastern Book Company, New Delhi, 9th edn., 2017)

[25] Id. at 355

[26] C.K. Takwani, Administrative Law 342 (Eastern Book Company, New Delhi, 6th edn., 2017)

[27] M.P. Jain & S.N. Jain, Principles of Administrative Law 1241 (Lexis Nexis, New Delhi, 7th edn., 2011)

[28] Legitimate Expectation, available at: [29](Visited on 10th April,2021)

[30] Supra Note 3 at 347

[31] Madras City Wine Merchants v. State of Tamil Nadu , (1994) 5 SCC 509

[32] Schmidt v. Secretary of State for Home Affairs, (1969) 2 WLR 337

[33] Supra note 1

[34]Breen v. Amalgamated Engineering Union, (1971) 2 QB 175 (CA)

[35] A.G. of Hong Kong v. Ng Yuen Shiu, (1983) 2 AC 629

[36] Supra note 1 at 358

[37] State of Kerela v K.G. Madhavan, AIR 1989 SC 49

[38] Schedule Caste and Weaker Section Welfare Association v. State of Karnataka (1991) 2 SCC 604

[39] Navjyoti Coop. Group Housing Society v. Union of India, 1992) 4 SCC 447

[40]UT Chandigarh v. Dilbagh Singh , (1993) 3 SCC 449

[41] Punjab Communication Ltd. v. Union of India, (1999) 4 SCC 727

[42] T. Vijayalakshmi v. Town Planning Member, (2006) 8 SCC 302

[43] Legitimate Expectation, available at: [44] (Visited on 10th April,2021)

[45] Supra note 3 at 346

[46] Food Corporation of India v. Kandhenu Cattle Feed Industries Ltd., AIR 1993 SC 1601

[47] E.P. Royappa v. State of Tamil Nadu, (1974) SCR (2) 348

[48] Monnet Ispat & Energy Ltd. v. Union of India, (2012) 11 SCC 1

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