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Updated: May 11, 2021

Author: Mehek Chablani, IV year of BLS.,LL.B from Pravin Gandhi College of Law, affiliated to Mumbai University.


The Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation is a public law doctrine which forms a fundamental element of the uncodified administrative law of the country. The origination and development of the doctrine lies in various landmark cases which have been discussed in the research article. The application of the Doctrine in India assists in holding the authorities liable to certain assurances made to the public, provided some conditions are satisfied.


administrative law, natural justice, public law, legitimate expectation.


“A man should keep his words."All the more so when a promise is not a bare promise but is made with the intention that the other party should act upon it”- Lord Denning

It is crucial that as the countries progress, and evolution of the administrative laws of the State must also occur simultaneously. Several principles of administrative law have been evolved by the court to protect the people from misuse and/or abuse of power by the agencies of the state. In several States, even though leaders are democratically elected and are representatives of the people, it is the duty of the administrative authorities to refrain from enacting laws, rules or regulations that are arbitrary in nature and are an abuse of their power.

The Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation is a principle of administrative law, but has also been applied by the courts whilst interpreting fiscal statutes. There is no precise definition regarding the doctrine, in terms of the law. It can be considered that the doctrine is relatively new to the domain of public law and is still evolving.

Historically, the doctrine has emerged in common law jurisdictions, however it can be traced back to Schmidt v Secretary of State for Home Affairs.

Concept of Legitimate Expectations

The doctrine has been adopted and implemented in India and hence has formed an integral component of uncodified administrative law. The inculcation and implementation of a doctrine or a concept of law which is uncodified depends upon the approach and perspective of the judiciary towards it.

The capacity of the apex court to import legal doctrine and to plant them in a different soil and climate and to make them flourish and bear fruits is tremendous. The doctrine pertains mainly to the relationship between a public authority and an individual. If an administrative authority makes a promise, either expressly or in an implied manner, which arises expectation in an individual, and it is within the authority’s power to fulfil it, the doctrine can be invoked.

However, there are certain parameters and grounds that have been established in various cases. The doctrine is also closely connected to Audi Alteram Partem, one of the principles of Natural Justice which states that no person can be condemned without being given a fair opportunity to be heard. Mirroring this rule, the modus operandi followed when the doctrine of legitimate expectations is invoked follows the view that the affected party should be given a fair opportunity to be heard.

In Ridge v. Baldwin, the Chief of Police (Ridge) was acquitted after a trial on corruption charges in which a judge criticised. After his acquittal, he was removed from his position without a hearing. After reconsideration by the Police Authority and an unsuccessful appeal to the Home Secretary, Ridge brought an action that his dismissal was completely unlawful and required a hearing which was denied.

In 1963, the House of Lords adjudged that the original decisions were null. Lord Reid stated that the Police Authority’s claim that because it was implementing a policy, the Rules of Natural Justice didn’t apply could not apply. This decision is considered landmark because it imposed on administrative authorities of the State a general duty to act fairly.

In Schmidt v. Secretary of State for Home Affairs, some alien students were studying Scientology at the Hubbard College of Scientology. The period of their stay was initially extended, however when they applied for a further extension to stay and complete their education, such application was rejected. This was done as a part of the Government’s policy decision to demotivate the study and spread of Scientology.

Indian Approach to the Doctrine

The very instance of a case which invoked this doctrine is State of Kerala v. K.G. Madhavan Pillai. In this case, the government had issued a sanction to the respondents to open new aided schools and upgrade the existing schools. However, another order was issued ordering to consider the former sanction suspended. The order was challenged on the ground that it was violative of the principles of natural justice. When the initial order was issued, there were certain expectations that arose regarding the upgradation and building of schools. And when such sanctions were suspended, without giving the respondents an opportunity to be heard, it violated certain principles.

Another major case decided by the Supreme Court which featured this principle was Navjyoti Coop. Group Housing Society v. Union of India. In this case, in accordance with the policy of the government, the allotment of land in housing societies was on a “first come, first serve” basis.

The allotment was decided on the basis of seniority in terms of date of registration. However, the government through a policy decision in 1990 changed these grounds for allotment to the date of the approval of the members. The Supreme Court held that the Housing Societies had legitimate expectations of following the consistent practice even though it is not an engrained law. The judgement also emphasized that this principle imposes a duty on public authorities to act fairly taking into consideration all the factors.

In Madras City Wine Merchants v. State of Tamil Nadu, certain grounds were established for the invocation of the doctrine. There was a statutory alteration in the rules regarding the granting and renewal of licenses issued for the sale of liquor. The aggrieved party contended that they had certain expectations when they were granted licenses, and the same weren’t met when there were statutory changes. The court held that in this case the principle could not be invoked and certain grounds were formulated for the invocation of the same. Para 48 lists the grounds as follows

  • If there is an express promise given by the authority or

  • Because of the existence of a regular practice which the claimant can reasonably seek to continue

  • Such an expectation must be reasonable.

Upon this, the judgement also held that if there is a change in policy or a change in perspective for the larger public interest, the question of legitimate expectation would not arise. Thus, through this judgement, the intent of judiciary to further engrain this principle and give it certain dimensions is perceivable.

In P.T.R. Exports (Madras) Pvt. Ltd. And Others vs. Union of India and others, another principle was set which was then reiterated in Bannari Amman Sugars Ltd. V. CTO. In the former case, there was a change in the export policy of garments from the country. There was a massive fall in the exports of garments and thus, in public interest, the policy was altered. The petitioners challenged the change in the policy. However, the Court held that when the Government is convinced that a shift in the policy is required, which is imperative in the public interest, this principle cannot be invoked.

Thus, it can be interpreted that certain limitations are set on the applicability of the doctrine. Such limitations predominantly prevent the Judiciary from overstepping its bounds and taking decisions regarding the policy decisions.

This principle was even extended for the protection of teachers in a judgement given by the Chhattisgarh High Court in November 2020. In Akhilesh Kumar Mishra and Anr v. State of Chhattisgarh, the petitioner was working as a Guest Teacher since 2019-2020. A new notification was issued by the Government for the appointment of a new set of Guest Teachers. The Court stated that solely because the petitioner was a Guest Teacher does not imply that he does not have any rights. There would be a legitimate expectation with the Petitioners that since there were no regular appointments, they would be permitted to continue with their current positions.


The Doctrine of Legitimate Expectations is per se not embodied in the laws. However, the doctrine has its due merits due to which there should be a larger application of it. The doctrine of legitimate expectations in essence serves as a mechanism that safeguards the vested or accrued rights of citizens who have acted pursuant and in conformity with the actions and/or the promises made by the legislature.

While it is undeniable that the doctrine is not all pervasive, the scenarios where it ceases to apply are circumstances where the overarching public interest is in ways the interest of a select group of individuals. Furthermore, the doctrine also ensures that the actions of the Legislature and policy makers, albeit affecting a select group of individuals, are largely in congruity with the larger public interest and emanate from bonafide motives.


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