Law and change: Scottish legal heroes
Law and change: Scottish legal heroes

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Law and change: Scottish legal heroes

3.2.1 Legitimate expectations

A tension may arise in practice. Suppose a public authority operates a policy or procedure consistently, but a change of circumstances means that there is a need to modify the policy or procedure. Or suppose the decision-maker misunderstands the extent of their legal powers and offers to an applicant a benefit (for example, planning permission) for which the applicant is not qualified under legislation.

In this kind of situation someone affected by the decision can have a legitimate expectation that because the policy or procedure has been operated in such a way in the past, that this will continue in the future. Equally, if the authority has promised someone in particular a benefit, it may (depending on the circumstances) be unfair to break that promise, even if there are public interest grounds for breaking it.

The key to resolving these tensions is to strike a balance between the public interest, for example, in changing the policy, and the private interest in maintaining it. Where a legitimate expectation has arisen, a public authority can still frustrate that expectation if any overriding public interest requires it. Whether a legitimate expectation has arisen, and whether it can be overridden, will depend upon a number of factors, such as:

  • Were the words or conduct (the ‘promise’ or ‘representation’) which gave rise to the expectation clear and unequivocal?
  • Did the person promising the benefit have the legal power to grant it, or was it ultra vires?
  • Who made the promise and how many people stood to benefit by it?
  • Did the person(s) to whom the promise was made take action in reliance upon it which has placed them in a worse position than they would have been if they had not taken that action?
WXM151_4

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371