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Law Notes Administrative Law Notes

Legitimate Expectations Notes

Updated Legitimate Expectations Notes

Administrative Law Notes

Administrative Law

Approximately 1167 pages

Administrative Law notes fully updated for recent exams at Oxford and Cambridge. These notes cover all the major LLB aspects and so are perfect for anyone doing an LLB in the UK or a great supplement for those doing LLBs abroad, whether that be in Ireland, Canada, Hong Kong or Malaysia (University of London). These notes were formed directly from a reading of the cases and main texts and are vigorous, concise and very well written. Everything is conveniently split up by topic as you can see by th...

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A ‘legitimate expectation’ refers to the effect on a person of a change in policy by a DM: the law tries to delineate between mere hopes (law should not protect) and expectations (law should protect). There is a tension between legality (rule of law means people should be able to plan their lives around the law) and the need for change (it would be unsatisfactory for a DM to be unable to change its policy).

Also public interest in legal certainty, as the community is able to repose trust and confidence in public institutions. Schonberg: “Administrative power is more likely to be perceived as legitimate authority if exercised in a way which respects legitimate expectations. Perceived legitimate authority is more efficacious because it encourages individuals to participate in decision making processes, to co-operate with administrative initiatives … greater compliance will in turn improve the administration’s ability to solve co-ordination problems and that may actually make its exercise of authority more legitimate.”

English law currently protects both procedural and substantive legitimate expectations: traditionally C could only expect to have their procedural legitimate expectations protected, but was expanded to substantive grounds in Coughlan.


A court may protect C’s expectations by requiring a fair procedure to be followed before the public authority makes a decision. There is a relationship with natural justice and fair process here —a legitimate expectation may entitle C to be treated in a particular procedural way when —absent the expectation —no such entitlement would arise. For example:

  • Ng Yuen Shiu [1983]: Hong Kong adopted a policy that if illegal immigrants came forward, they would be allowed to make representations as to why they should be allowed to stay. C came forward, but the authorities attempted to deport without giving C a hearing. PC: quash the deportation order:

  • Lord Fraser:Where a public authority… has promised to follow a certain procedure, it’s in the interests of good administration that it should act fairly and implement that promise, as long as that implementation doesn’t interfere with its statutory duty.”

  • R (Greenpeace) [2007]: white paper provided that the government would not produce nuclear power stations without full public consultations, but the government then sought to do so regardless, with minimal consultation. Sullivan J: the in-principle decision to build a nuclear power station was quashed. “There was procedural unfairness, and a breach of the claimant's legitimate expectation that there would be "the fullest public consultation".

  • ex p Liverpool Taxi Fleet Operators [1972]: city council had a statutory power to set the number of taxi licenses in Liverpool. It made a public undertaking that it would not increase the number without consultations, but did so anyway. CA (Denning): court should intervene to ensure that the council acted fairly in deciding the policy “So long as the performance of the undertaking is compatible with their public duty, they must honour it.”

In Greenpeace and Liverpool Taxi, the legitimate expectation grants a right C would not otherwise have (no general right to consultation).


This area of the law is more controversial and the case law is less clear. There are concerns here about fettering discretion, such that public bodies cannot do their jobs.

  • Constitutional legitimacy of judicial intervention: problematic for the court to intervene where Parliament has conferred discretion on the DM.

  • Inability to respond: can make it difficult for DMs to respond to changing situations:

    • Hamble Fisheries: if unable to make change the fishing licence policy, there could be a shortage of fish.

    • Ex p Richmond [1994]: SS exercised statutory powers to introduce a quota system for aircraft usage (limiting the use of noisier aircraft). One argument was a consultation exercise with LAs about proposed changes led to a legitimate expectation alternative measures would be introduced. Laws J: although the scheme is unlawful for non-compliance with the statute, he denies there is any authority for substantive legitimate expectations: such a doctrine would impose an obvious and unacceptable fetter on the power, and duty, of a responsible public authority to change its policy when it considered that it was required in fulfilment of its public responsibilities.”

  • Appeal/Review distinction: if substantive legitimate expectations are protected, there is a risk of the court substituting its view of the merits of the case for that of the public authority.

These problems do not arise to the same extent in cases of procedural legitimate expectations —they only limit how the decision must be made not whether it can be made at all.

Substantive expectations pre-Coughlan

Prior to Coughlan there had been a sharp disagreement:

  • Pro- substantive legitimate expectations

    • ex p Hamble Fisheries Ltd [1995]: Minister had statutory power to change the licensing regime for fishing of pressure stocks. Did C have a legitimate expectation that his licence would not be revoked? Sedley J: difficult to see why it is less unfair to frustrate a substantive expectation than a procedural one, “such a doctrine does not risk fettering a DM… because no individual can legitimately expect the discharge of public duties to stand still or be distorted because of that individual’s peculiar position.” What matters is whether C can show an expectation worthy of protection.” Advocates for a balancing test between C’s expectation and “policy considerations which militate against its fulfillment”—while this is for the DM to strike, the court is not limited to “bare rationality in reviewing his decision. It would be “wrong to allow changes of policy to be unduly fettered.” But “there is the value of legal certainty.”

  • Against substantive legitimate expectations:

    • ex p Hargreaves [1997]: prisoners who had served 1/3 of their...

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