Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation

By Lovisha Aggarwal | February 05, 2019

Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation can be used to obtain relief from Court by invoking their power of Judicial Review when a strict legal provision does not exist in favour of the person. A person may have a reasonable or legitimate expectation of being treated in a certain way by the administrative authorities owing to some consistent practice in the past or an express promise made by the concerned authority.

It was introduced in a case where alien students of scientology were refused extension of their entry permits as an act of policy by the Home Secretary. The Court of Appeal held that they had no legitimate expectation of extension beyond the permitted time, and so no right to a hearing, though revocation of their permits within that time would have been contrary to legitimate expectation. Likewise where car-hire drivers had habitually offended against airport byelaws, with many convictions and unpaid fines, it was held that they had no legitimate expectation of being heard before being banned by the airport authority. There is some ambiguity in the dicta about legitimate expectation, which may apparently mean either expectation of a fair hearing or expectation of the licence or other benefit which is being sought. But the result is the same in either case: absence of legitimate expectation will absolve the public authority from affording a hearing.

For the purpose of natural justice the question which matters is not whether the claimant has some legal right but whether legal power is being exercised over him to his disadvantage. It is not a matter of property or of vested interests, but simply of the exercise of governmental power in a manner which is fair and considerate.

State of Bihar v. Dr. Sachindra Narayan (Supreme Court, 2019)

Legitimate expectation is one of the grounds of judicial review but unless a legal obligation exists, there cannot be any legitimate expectation. The legitimate expectation is not a wish or a desire or a hope, therefore, it cannot be claimed or demanded as a right. The payment of pension in the past will not confer an enforceable right in favour of the Institute or its employees.

Union of India & Ors. v. Hindustan Development Corporation (Supreme Court, 1993)

A pious hope even leading to moral obligation cannot amount to a legitimate expectation. The legitimacy of an expectation can be inferred only if it is founded on the sanction of law or custom or an established procedure followed in regular and natural sequence.

Navjyoti Coop. Group Housing Society v. Union of India (Supreme Court, 1992)

The Group Housing Societies were entitled to legitimate expectation of following consistent past practice in the matter of allotment, even though they may not have may legal right in private law to receive such treatment. The existence of legitimate expectation may have a number of different consequences and one of such consequences is that the authority ought not to act to defeat the legitimate expectation without some overriding reason of public policy to justify its doing so. In a case of legitimate expectation if the authority proposes to defeat a person’s legitimate expectation it should afford him an opportunity to make representations in the matter.

the doctrine of legitimate expectation imposes in essence a duty on public authority to act fairly by taking into consideration all relevant factors relating to such legitimate expectation. Within the conspectus of fair dealing in case of legitimate expectation, the reasonable opportunities to make representation by the parties likely to be affected by any change of consistent past policy, come in.

Food Corporation Of India vs Kamdhenu Cattle Feed Industries (Supreme Court, 1992)

In contractual sphere as in all other State actions, the State and all its instrumentalities have to conform to Article 14 of the Constitution of which non-arbitrariness is a significant facet. There is no unfettered discretion in public law: A public authority possesses powers only to use them for public good. This impose the duty to act fairly and to adopt a procedure which is `fairplay in action’. Due observance of this obligation as a part of good administration raises a reasonable or legitimate expectation in every citizen to be treated fairly in his interaction with the State and its instrumentalities, with this element forming a necessary component of the decision making process in all State actions. To satisfy this requirement of non- arbitrariness in a State action, it is, therefore, necessary to consider and give due weight to the reasonable or legitimate expectations of the persons likely lo be affected by the decision or else that unfairness in the exercise of the power may amount to an abuse or excess of power apart from affecting the bona fides of the decision in a given case. The decision so made would be exposed to challenge on the ground of arbitrariness. Rule of law does not completely eliminate discretion in the exercise of power, as it is unrealistic, but providers for control of its exercise by judicial review.

The mere reasonable or legitimate expectation of a citizen, in such a situation, may not by itself be a distinct enforceable right, but failure to consider and give due weight to it may render the decision arbitrary, and this is how the requirement of due consideration of a Legitimate expectation forms part of the principle of non- arbitrariness, a necessary concomitant of the rule of law. Every legitimate expectation is a relevant factor requiring due consideration a fair decision making process. Whether the expectation of the claimant is reasonable or legitimate in the context is a question of fact in each case. Whenever the question arises, it is to be determined not according to the claimant’s perception but in larger public interest wherein other more important considerations may outweigh what would otherwise have been the legitimate expectation of the claimant. A bona fide decision of the public authority reached in this manner would satisfy the requirement of non-arbitrariness and withstand judicial scrutiny. The doctrine of legitimate expectation gets assimilated in the rule of law and operates in our legal system in this manner and to this extent.

Even though the highest tenderer can claim no right to have his tender accepted, there being a power while inviting tenders to reject all the tenders, yet the power to reject all the tenders cannot be exercised arbitrarily and must depend for its validity on the existence of cogent reasons for such action. The object of inviting tenders for disposal of a commodity is to procure the highest price while giving equal opportunity to all the intending bidders to compete. Procuring the highest price for the commodity is undoubtedly in public interest since the amount so collected goes to the public fund. Accordingly, inadequacy of the price offered in the highest tender would be a cogent ground for negotiating with the tenderers giving them equal opportunity to revise their bids with a view to obtain the highest available price. The inadequacy may be for several reasons known in the commercial field. Inadequacy of the prince quoted in the highest tender would be a question of fact in each case. Retaining the option to accept the highest tender, in case the negotiations do not yield a significantly higher offer would be fair to the tenderers besides protecting the public interest. A procedure wherein resort is had to negotiations with the tenderers for obtaining a significantly higher bid during the period when the offers in the tenders remain open for acceptance and rejection of the tenders only in the event of a significant higher bid being obtained during negotiations would ordinarily satisfy this requirement. This procedure involves giving due weight to the legitimate expectation of the highest bidder to have his tender accepted unless outbid by a higher offer, in which case acceptance of the highest offer within the time the offers remain open would be a reasonable exercise power for public good.

Council of Civil Service Union and Ors. v. Minister for Civil Service (House of Lords, 1985)

An aggrieved person was entitled to judicial review if he could show that a decision of the public authority affected him of some benefit or advantage which in the past he had been permitted to enjoy and which he legitimately expected to be permitted to continue to enjoy either until he was given reasons for withdrawal and the opportunity to comment on such reasons.