Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation in Administrative Law

Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation in Administrative Law


The Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation is one of the most widely used tools and methods used by the court for the purpose of reviewing administrative actions. This particular doctrine is related to and used for determining the relationship between an individual and the respective public authority. The meaning of this doctrine in a gist is that any public authority can be made responsible or accountable in lieu of a ‘legitimate expectation’. This doctrine came about as a result of any individual or person having a certain legitimate or reasonable expectation from the administrative authority that they will be treated in a particular way owing to some consistent practice in the previous years or by the reason of a promise made explicitly made by the respective public authority.

Origin of Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation

This doctrine is not a particular legal right which is not mentioned anywhere in any specific rule book or statute. In the case of Council of Civil Services Unions and Others v. Minister for the Civil Service, the principles of the doctrine were established on a very broad basis and held that any decision taken by the public authority should affect the person such that :-

• His rights or obligations are altered, which are enforceable by or against him
• He is deprived of some benefit or advantage which he had been permitted by the authorizing body in the past and which he could have legitimately expected to enjoy until a valid ground for withdrawal of the same was communicated to him or he had been assured by the decision making body that such a benefit or advantage would not be withdrawn until him being given an opportunity of contending reasons as to why they were withdrawn.

Origin and Development of the Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation in India

1. State of Kerala v. KG Madhavan Pillai

This was the first case in which the doctrine of legitimate expectation was discussed for the first time in Indian scenario of administrative law. In this case, the respondents were issued a sanction for the purpose of opening a new aided school and also for the up-gradation the existing schools in place. Nevertheless, 15 days after the granting of the sanction an order was issued for the purpose of keeping the previously granted sanction in abeyance. The respondents challenged the said order on the grounds that it was in gross violation of principles of natural justice. Later, the Supreme Court held that the said sanction entitled the respondents with legitimate expectation whereas the second order was in clear violation of principles of natural justice.

2. Navjyoti Coop. Group Housing Society v. Union of India

The new criteria which was laid down for the allotment of land was challenged in this case. According to the policy which was originally laid down, the seniority for the purpose of allotment was to be decided on the basis of the date of registration. Consequently, when a major change was incorporated in the policy in the year 1990, the criteria for deciding seniority was changed from the date of registration as the basis to the date of approval of the final list.

It was held by the Supreme Court that the housing societies were entitled to ‘legitimate expectation’ owing to the continuous and consistent practice in the past in matters of allotment. The court also explained on the principle stating that presence of ‘legitimate expectations’ can have different outcomes and one such outcome is that the authority should not fail ‘legitimate expectation’ unless there is some justifiable public policy reason for the same.

It also highlighted that availability of reasonable opportunity to those likely being affected by change in the policy which was consistent in nature is well within the ambit of acting fairly and held that such an opportunity should have been given to the Housing Societies by way of a public notice.

3. Food Corporation of India v. Kamdhenu Cattle Feed Industries

The Supreme Court gave a detailed explanation in this case on the nature of the doctrine of legitimate expectation. The court held that since there is a huge responsibility on the part of public authorities to act fairly, therefore every citizen of this country is entitled to have legitimate expectation that they will be treated in a fair manner and the public authorities must give due weightage/importance to those expectations for the purpose of satisfying non-arbitrariness in state action because otherwise it may be counted as abuse of power. The court also made an extraordinary point that any such legitimate/reasonable expectation may not be a directly enforceable right always but failing to take into consideration such an expectation make deem a authority’s decision arbitrary. Nevertheless, the determination of an expectation to be a legitimate one or not must be decided on a case to case basis.

4. Union of India v. Hindustan Development Corporation

The Supreme Court has explained the scope of the doctrine very much in detail in this case by referring to Halsbury’s Laws of England 4th edition Volume I 151 and held that every person is entitled to have a legitimate expectation that he will be treated in a fair manner despite not having a legal right to receive the same.


The reason that there are innumerable laws in existence in the judiciary, this doctrine of legitimate expectation accommodates the human side of the judiciary. Since it is a well-established fact that there does not exist an exhaustive list which contains all possible expectations in judiciary and the same is not e deficiency either, so the doctrine is meant for the correlation of the huge list of expectations and desires from its citizens which are again inexhaustible in nature.


1. Council of Civil Service Unions and Others v. Minister for the Civil Service, (1985) AC 374
2. State of Kerala v. KG Madhavan Pillai, (1988) 4 SCC 669
3. Navjyoti Coop. Group Housing Society v. Union of India, (1992) 4 SCC 477
4. Food Corporation of India v. Kamdhenu Cattle Feed Industries, (1993) 1 SCC 71
5. Union of India v. Hindustan Development Corporation, (1993) 3 SCC 499

Author: Haritha Malepati,
3rd year BBA LLB, Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad

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