Legitimate expectations

‘Should governments do what they said they were going to do?

Let’s suppose you’re the head of a secondary school and you apply to the government for some funding for a major rebuilding project. The education minister writes saying you will get the money. So you call in the bulldozers to knock down an old crumbling building to make ready for a new state of the art teaching block. But, a month later, a new minister is appointed and he takes a look at the departmental budget and decides that he won’t fund the project after all. He drops you a line to that effect.

In legal terms we might say that the school had a ‘legitimate expectation’ of funding (albeit not a contract) and that that expectation has been frustrated. But what makes expectations about government policies or decisions legitimate? And should governmental departments be liable for losses they cause by frustrating legitimate expectations?

In a new article for the Journal of Political Philosophy and in a forthcoming book with Oxford University Press, Alexander Brown attempts to answer these deep questions of political and Legal theory.

On the one hand, he claims that the legitimacy of the expectation depends on the governmental administrative body being responsible for causing or bringing about the expectation. Moreover, he argues that the body should be held liable in law, both for reasons of respect for the governed and for reasons of good administration: governmental administrative agencies will find it much easier to secure take up and credibility of policies if the public knows that the courts will make governmental administrations pay adequate compensation in the event they are simply unable to keep their promises.

Alexander Brown is a Reader in Politics at the University of East Anglia.

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