Legitimate Expectation means that a person may have a reasonable expectation of being treated in a certain way by administrative authorities owing to some consistent practice in the past or an express promise made by the concerned authority. According to this doctrine, a public authority can be made accountable in lieu of a legitimate expectation. Thus, the doctrine of Legitimate Expectation pertains to the relationship between an individual and a public authority.

"What is legitimate expectation? Obviously, it is not a legal right. It is an expectation of a benefit, relief or remedy that may ordinarily flow from a promise or established practice. The term 'established practice' refers to a regular, consistent predictable and certain conduct, process or activity of the decision-making authority. The expectation should be legitimate, that is, reasonable, logical and valid. Any expectation which is based on sporadic or casual or random acts, or which is unreasonable, illogical or invalid cannot be a legitimate expectation. Not being a right, it is not enforceable as such. It is a concept fashioned by courts, for judicial review of administrative action. It is procedural in character based on the requirement of a higher degree of fairness in administrative action, as a consequence of the promise made, or practice established. In short, a person can be said to have a 'legitimate expectation' of a particular treatment, if any representation or promise is made by an authority, either expressly or impliedly, or if the regular and consistent past practice of the authority gives room for such expectation in the normal course."1

Therefore, it can be said that this doctrine is a form of a check on the administrative authority. When a representation has been made, 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.2 It also adds a duty on the public authority not to act in a way to defeat the legitimate expectation without having some reason of public policy to justify its doing so.3


The doctrine of legitimate expectation, based on established practice, can be invoked only by someone who has dealings or transactions or negotiations with an authority, on which such established practice has a bearing, or by someone who has a recognized legal relationship with the authority.4 A total stranger unconnected with the authority or a person who had no previous dealings with the authority and who has not entered into any transaction or negotiations with the authority, cannot invoke the doctrine of legitimate expectation, merely on the ground that the authority has a general obligation to act fairly.5


  1. if there is an express promise given by a public authority; or
  2. because of the existence of a regular practice which the claimant can reasonably expect to continue;
  3. such an expectation must be reasonable.6

Every legitimate expectation is a relevant factor requiring due consideration in 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.7 Whenever the question arises, it is to be determined not according to the claimant's perception but in the larger public interest wherein other more important considerations may outweigh what would otherwise have been the legitimate expectation of the claimant.8 A bona fide decision of the public authority reached in this manner would satisfy the requirement of non-arbitrariness and withstand judicial scrutiny.9


The expectation cannot be the same as anticipation. It is different from a wish, a desire or a hope nor does it amount to a claim or demand on the ground of a right. However earnest and sincere a wish, a desire or a hope may be and however confidently one may look to them to be fulfilled, they by themselves cannot amount to an assert-able expectation and a mere disappointment does not attract legal consequences. A pious hope even leading to a moral obligation cannot amount to a legitimate expectation.10

Therefore, legitimacy of an expectation can only be inferred if it is based on the sanction of law or custom or an established procedure followed in regular and natural system.


This doctrine first found its mention in the case of State of Kerala vs. Madhavan Pillai.11 In this case the government had issued a sanction to the respondents to open a new aided school and to upgrade the existing ones. However, after 15 days, a direction was issued to keep the sanction in abeyance. This action was challenged on the ground that the same violated the principles of natural justice. The Hon'ble Supreme Court held that the sanction order created legitimate expectations in the respondents which was violated by the second order as the same was without following the principles of natural justice which is sufficient to vitiate the administrative order.

This doctrine was applied in another case12 where the government had issued a notification notifying the areas where slum scheme would be introduced. However, the notification was subsequently amended, and some areas earlier included were left out. The court held that when a notification is made rescinding the earlier notifications without hearing the affected parties, it is clear violation of the principle of natural justice.13 The earlier notification had raised legitimate expectation in the people living in an area which has been subsequently left out and hence legitimate expectation cannot be denied without a fair hearing.

In GNCT of Delhi v. Naresh Kumar14, the Delhi High Court summarized the legal position with regard to legitimate expectation as follows:

  • Firstly, mere reasonable or legitimate expectation of a citizen may not by itself be a distinct enforceable right, but failure to consider and give due weightage to it may render the decision arbitrary. 
  • Secondly, legitimate expectation may arise if (a) there is an express promise given by a public authority; or (b) because of acceptance of a regular practice, a claimant can reasonably expect it to continue; and (c) such expectation may be reasonable. 
  • Thirdly, for a legitimate expectation to arise, the decision of administrative authority must affect the person by depriving him of some benefit or advantage which he had in the past been permitted, by the decision maker, to enjoy and which he can legitimately expect to be permitted to continue, until some rational grounds for withdrawing it have been communicated to him.
  • Fourthly, if the authority proposes to defeat a person's legitimate expectation, it should afford him an opportunity to make a representation in the matter. 
  • Fifthly, the doctrine of legitimate expectation permits the court to find out if the change in policy which is the cause for defeating the legitimate expectation, is irrational or perverse or one which no reasonable person could have made.

In the case of Navjyoti Coop. Group Housing Society & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors.15, wherein a new criterion of allotment was given by the memorandum impugned therein, prior to which priority in the matter of allotment to Group Housing Societies had all along been made with reference to the date of registration. The court held that since prior to the new guidelines contained in the memorandum of January 20, 1990, the principle of allotment had always been on the basis of date of registration and not the date of approval of the list of members, 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 any legal right in private law to receive such treatment.


The necessity for application of the doctrine of Legitimate Expectation arises when an administrative body by reason of a representation or by past practice or conduct stirred an expectation which would be within its powers to accomplish unless some superseding public interest comes in the way. However, a person who centers his claim on the doctrine of legitimate expectation, in the first instance, has to satisfy that he has relied on the said representation and the rejection of that expectation has worked to his detriment. The court would interfere only if the decision taken by the authority was found to be arbitrary, unreasonable or in gross abuse of power or in violation of principles of natural justice and not taken in public interest. But a claim based on mere legitimate expectation without anything more cannot ipso facto give a right to invoke this principle.


1 Ram Pravesh Singh and Ors. vs. State of Bihar and Ors, (2006 (8) SCJ 721), Para 14

2 Navjyoti Co-op Group Housing Society vs. UOI 1992(4)SCC494, Para 16

3 Ibid, Para 16

4 Supra Note 1, Para 14 

5 Supra Note 1, Para 14

6 Madras City Wine Merchants' Association and Ors. vs. State of T.N. and Ors. (1994) 5 S.C.C. 509, Para 60

7 Food Corporation of India vs. Kamdhenu Cattle Feed Industries (AIR 1993 SC 1601), Para 8

8 Ibid

9 Ibid

10 Union of India (UOI) and Ors. vs. Hindustan Development Corpn. and Ors. (MANU/SC/0219/1994), Para 29

11 AIR 1989 SC 49 (Paras 17 to 20)

12  The Scheduled Caste and Weaker Section Welfare Association vs. State of Karnataka (1991)2 SCC 604

13 Ibid at Para 16

14 175 (2010) DLT 143, Para 21

15  Supra Note 3, Para 15

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.