The Evolution and Analysis of the Principle of Legitimate Expectation

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I. Introduction “A man should keep his words. All the more so when promise is not a bare promise but is made with the intention that the other party should act upon it”[1] A law cannot be found upon mere trust and expectations, no matter how reasonable it may sound.

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For the individuals to act on the law, the law has to be concrete and defined. Therefore, laws are codified and precedents are established, to bring about the union of constancy and certainty. Laws, once formed, create expectations in the mind of the persons that such laws will be justly implemented and observed by the administrative authorities with any sort of arbitrariness. At the same time, laws have to undergo constant changes and modifications and repealments to meet the challenges of a constantly changing society and to do more justice. The principle of legitimate expectancy keeps a check on the arbitrary exercise of power by public authorities, by defining the ambit within which the administrative authorities can change the law, and in this manner giving relief to an aggrieved individual against an arbitrary use of power even when such relief does not exists under statute law. II. The Principle of Legitimate Expectation Lord Denning[2] first made the mention of the principle of legitimate expectation, which was later adopted by courts all over the world.[3] The doctrine of “legitimate Expectation” falls within the ambit of public law. The principle protects individuals from an arbitrary exercise of administrative authority by a public body and offers relief to those who has suffered a civil wrong due to the non-fulfilment of his legitimate expectations. However, under the strict meaning of the principle under the law, the claimant has no rights under this principle in a court of law.[4] It positions itself between “a right” and “no right”, giving an individual a right to approach the court, and differs from hope and desire. The principle has been widely implemented by Indian Courts to restrict the arbitrary exercise of power by administrative system. In general, a person has a right to approach the courts for relief under private law when his rights arising out of a statute or contract has been violated. However, in public law, this rule relaxes the rule of locus standi by permitting an individual to approach the courts whenever his rightful expectations from the administrative bodies have been breached.[5] Therefore, this doctrine is considered to be developed from the principles natural justice and comes under Article 14 of the Constitution.[6] Essentially, the principle of legitimate expectation protests against arbitrariness and encourages fair dealing by public authorities. Like majority of other doctrines in administrative law, legitimate expectation is a theory created by the Courts for the examination of administrative actions.

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