Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation

Author : Sushant Rochlani

The theory of Legitimate Expectation is a branch of Administrative Law. It is a concept fashioned by the Courts for the review of administrative actions. It has been accepted by the English, Irish and Indian Courts but has been out rightly rejected in Australia and Canada.

The theory of Legitimate Expectation marches into operation when there is an express promise from any Public Authority / Official that there is a regular practice of a certain thing, which the claimant can reasonably expect to continue. In other words, it consists of either inculcating anticipation in the citizen, or assuring him that under certain rules and schemes he would continue to reap certain benefits of which he would not be deprived unless there is some overriding public interest.

Lord Diplock, in the English case Council of Civil Service Union v. Minister for Civil Service, has explained the doctrine, both in procedural and substantive contexts.
Procedural: The procedural part of it relates to a representation that a hearing or other appropriate procedure will be afforded before any decision is made.

Substantive: The substantive part of the theory is that if a representation has been expressly made that a benefit of a substantive nature will be granted or if any person is already in receipt of any benefit, it will be continued and will not be substantially varied to the disadvantage of the recipient.

The representation should be on the lines of an express promise, or an established past action or settled conduct. It must be clear and unambiguous. It can be to an individual or to a class of persons.
Thus, to cut a long story short, Legitimate Expectation concerns the relationship between Public Administration and an individual. The principle means that expectations raised by administrative conduct have to be respected and fulfilled lest public interest and betterment demands otherwise. Non-fulfillment can have legal consequences. The role of the Courts in the entire transaction is to safeguard the individual’s expectations in the face of change of policy. They have to ensure that the individual’s expectations are fulfilled mutatis mutandis the Governmental Policies. The theory is an enlargement of principles of Natural Justice. Precisely speaking, the Government and its Departments, in administering the affairs of the country are expected to honour their statements of policy or intention. The policy statement cannot be disregarded unfairly. Unfairness and arbitrariness are akin to violation of principles of natural justice.
In Food Corporation of India v. Kamdhenu Cattle Feed Industries Ltd. , the Supreme Court has observed that the doctrine of legitimate expectation falls within the purview of the principle of non-arbitrariness as incorporated under Article 14 of the Constitution. It becomes an enforceable right when the Government instrumentality fails to give due weight to it.
However, as per the observations of the Supreme Court in Assistant Excise Commissioner v. Issac Peter , the doctrine of legitimate expectation cannot be invoked to alter the terms of a contract of a statutory nature.
Similarly, in Howrah Municipal Corporation v. Ganges Road Company Ltd it has been held that no right can be claimed on the basis of legitimate expectation when it is contrary to statutory provisions which have been enforced in public interest.
In Madras City Wine Merchants Association v. State of Tamil Nadu the doctrine of legitimate expectation was held to become inoperative when there was a change in public policy or in public interest.
In Union of India v. Hindustan Development Corporation , the Supreme Court has elaborately considered the reverence of this theory. In the estimation of the Apex Court, the doctrine does not contain any crystallized right. It gives to the applicant a sufficient ground to seek judicial review and the principle is mostly confined to the right to a fair hearing before any decision is given.
It was held in Navjyoti Co-op Group Housing Society v. Union of India that the doctrine of legitimate expectation imposes in essence a duty on the public authorities to act fairly by taking into consideration all the relevant factors bearing a nexus to such legitimate expectation. The concerned authority cannot act arbitrarily so as to defeat the expectation, unless demanded by over-riding reasons of public policy.
Further, in another landmark judgment, M.P. Oil Extraction Co v. State of Madhya Pradesh , the Supreme Court was dealing with the license renewal claims of certain industries. It was held in this case that extending an invitation, on behalf of the State, was not arbitrary and the selected industry had a legitimate expectation of renewal of license under the renewal claims.
Lastly, in National Building Constructions Corporation v. S Raghunathan , it was held that legitimate expectation is a source of both, procedural and substantive rights. The person seeking to invoke the doctrine must be aggrieved and must have altered his position. The doctrine of legitimate expectation assures fair play in administrative action and can always be enforced as a substantive right. Whether or not an expectation is legitimate is a question of fact.
The emerged concept of Legitimate Expectation is gradually gaining importance. The substance of the doctrine is honouring implied commitments without hampering express policies. The doctrine invokes to enforce regularity, predictability and certainty in Government’s dealings vis –a – vis the masses.