In general terms, a court order is an order to do, or not to do, something. It must be obeyed. If you wilfully fail to follow a court order, it is likely that you will have committed contempt of court.

Court orders are usually required whenever a party has a right that they wish to enforce, or when they are trying to protect a right that they have. Typical examples are court orders to pay money, orders to perform actions such as transferring title to property or to open a business for trade or an order to prevent access from being taken along a road.

How long does it usually take to obtain a court order?

Obtaining a court order can take several months, and sometimes years. In most actions the court papers must be lodged at the court and then served on the defender. The defender is then given time to decide if they wish to respond. Even of the action is undefended, it can still take between one and two months to get the court order you are seeking. If a defence is lodged, timescales can significantly increase. It is not uncommon for a court action to take over a year to reach its conclusion.

Can you ask for an urgent order?

In some circumstances you might want a court order immediately. For example, you might wish to stop a nuisance or to ensure that you can keep taking access down a driveway.

In those circumstances you can ask the court for urgent, immediate court orders. These are usually granted at the start of the action, and often without the defender even having a chance to respond.

What tests will the court apply?

The court considers two principal tests when granting immediate orders. First, do you have a prima facie case? This means you must show that you have suffered a wrongful act at the hands of the defender or that you are seriously threatened with such an act and that there is a case to try.

Second, you must show that there is a cogent need for immediate protection. The court will tend to favour maintaining the status quo, but it must be remembered that the court's decision is always discretionary. As a rule of thumb, the judge will look to minimise damage to the parties' positions whilst the court action runs its course.

Can the defender receive advance warning of an urgent court order?

Any party can lodge a caveat at the relevant court or courts. This ensures that advance notice is given to that party's solicitor, and that they are given a chance to appear before any immediate court order is granted against them. See our blog here for more information.

Can an immediate court order be challenged?

If an immediate court order is granted, a party can apply to have this recalled. This involves a hearing in front of the judge where they hear arguments for and against keeping the immediate order in place. If any party disagrees with the decision made at this hearing, it can then be appealed (typically to a bench of three judges).

Are there any risks in obtaining immediate orders?

An immediate order granted before the conclusion of the action will either be confirmed at the end of the court case, or the judge will decide that there is no entitlement to the order on a perpetual basis. If that happens, the party who obtained the immediate order could be liable in damages for any costs incurred by their opponent complying with the immediate order – for example if you force a business to keep open to trade (at a loss), and it is ultimately found that you had no right to do so, then you could be held liable for these losses.


Immediate orders are a useful and effective tool at your disposal in cases of urgency. There are risks associated with obtaining them, and they are not available in all circumstances. 

For that reason, you should always speak to someone who has experience of this kind of application before you threaten proceedings and certainly before you raise a court action.

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David Ford

Associate & Solicitor Advocate