The Concept of Legitimate Expectations

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SUBSTANTIVE LEGITIMATE EXPECTATIONS IN AUSTRALIAN ADMINISTRATIVE LAW MATTHEW GROVES∗
[Judicial review of administrative action has traditionally had a procedural focus. This means that courts examine the procedure by which a decision is made, rather than the decision itself. A denial of natural justice is no exception to review — a person dissatisfied with an administrative decision has long been able to complain about the fairness of the decision-making process but not the fairness of the decision itself. English law has recently developed a doctrine of ‘substantive unfairness’ by which an expectation about the outcome of a decision-making process can be protected by the courts in a strong sense. The strength of the protection given under this new doctrine seems to blur the distinction between process and outcomes, which leads judicial review in a radical new direction. This article explains the English doctrine of substantive unfairness and considers whether it can and should be adopted in Australia.]

CONTENTS
I II III IV V Introduction ............................................................................................................ 471 The Concept of Legitimate Expectations ............................................................... 472 Substantive Legitimate Expectations in England ................................................... 475 Coughlan: The Acceptance of Unfairness in Its Own Right .................................. 477 The Post-Coughlan Adjustment and Entrenchment of the Doctrine in England.... 482 A The Refinement of Coughlan .................................................................... 483 B ‘Conspicuous Unfairness’ — A Separate Head of Review or a Sign of Abuse of Power?........................................................................................ 487 C The Doctrinal Break between Estoppel and Public Law ........................... 489 D The Separation of Powers .......................................................................... 491 E Observations on Coughlan and Its Progeny .............................................. 493 VI The Australian Reception of the Substantive Legitimate Expectation Doctrine .... 495 A The Procedural Conception of the Legitimate Expectation Doctrine........ 497 B The Rejection of Estoppel in Public Law .................................................. 501 C Unfairness in the Form of Inconsistent Treatment .................................... 504 D Constitutional Objections to the Substantive Legitimate Expectation Doctrine ..................................................................................................... 506 E Can a Remedy for Serious Administrative Injustice Bypass Constitutional Objections to the Substantive Legitimate Expectation Doctrine?.....................................................................................................511 F What of the Constitutional Position at the State Level? ............................ 513 G Reflections on Australian Objections to the Substantive Legitimate Expectation Doctrine ................................................................................. 514 VII Concluding Observations ....................................................................................... 521

∗ BA, LLB (Hons), PhD (Monash); Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Monash University. I am

grateful to Bruce Dyer for his helpful comments.

470

2008]

Substantive Legitimate Expectations in Administrative Law I INTRODUCTION

471

Governments and their agents may create expectations regarding the manner in which administrative powers will be exercised. Expectations of this nature can be generated in many different ways, such as by the issue of policies or procedures to guide the exercise of discretionary powers. Expectations regarding the future exercise of administrative powers may also be generated by public statements or representations, perhaps even promises, or by adoption...
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