Injunction: Legal Meaning, Restraining Order, Interlocutory and Irreparable Harm

What is an Injunction?

An injunction is a court order that compels or restrains an individual, entity, or government body from taking specific actions, often issued to prevent irreparable harm or enforce legal rights.

Understanding the Legal Meaning of Injunction

When diving into the world of law, one might come across this term quite frequently. It is a common instrument in the toolbox of the legal system, serving as a directive from the court.

But what exactly does it mean, and why is it an essential aspect of the legal landscape?

An injunction is a court order that either compels an individual, entity, or government body to do something or restrains them from doing something.

It is a remedy in the form of a command instead of monetary relief. They are typically sought when monetary compensation isn’t deemed sufficient to remedy the harm.

Types of Injunctions

They can be broadly classified into the following categories:

  • Temporary Restraining Order (TRO): This is an urgent, short-term order when immediate action is necessary to prevent harm. A TRO is typically granted without notifying the opposing party (ex-parte) and is effective for a limited duration, often until a hearing can be held to consider the matter more thoroughly.
  • Preliminary or Interlocutory Injunction: Granted after a hearing but before the case’s final resolution. It ensures that the status quo is maintained and irreparable harm doesn’t occur before the court decides. These provisional injunctions can be revised, modified, or revoked during litigation.
Injunction - tort - interim injunction
  • Permanent Injunction: As the name suggests, it is granted as part of the final judgment in a case. It reflects the court’s determination that the party seeking the injunction has won the case and that, to prevent future harm, the other party should be permanently ordered to do or not do something.

Grounds for Granting an Injunction

Though the specifics vary by jurisdiction, courts generally consider the following when determining whether to grant it:

  • Irreparable Harm: The party seeking the injunction must demonstrate that without it, they would suffer harm that can’t be adequately remedied by monetary damages alone.
  • Likelihood of Success: The party must show that they have a strong chance of prevailing in the main action.
  • Balance of Hardships: Courts weigh the potential harm to the plaintiff if the injunction isn’t granted against the potential harm to the defendant if it is.
  • Public Interest: In some cases, how the injunction might affect the broader public can be a deciding factor.

Can A Party Seek An Injunction If They Have Already Suffered Harm, Or Is It Solely Preventative?

They are primarily preventive measures designed to avert future harm or maintain the status quo. However, suffering harm does not preclude a party from seeking an injunction. Past harm demonstrates the potential for future, ongoing, or recurrent harm if the offending behaviour is not curtailed.

For example, suppose a party has breached a confidentiality agreement once and threatens to do so again. In that case, the aggrieved party can seek an injunction to prevent further breaches, even though harm has already occurred.

While the initial harm may be addressed through monetary damages or other legal remedies, the court order is sought to prevent the continuation or repetition of that harm.

Procedure to Obtain It

While the procedure can vary, the following steps are generally involved:

  • Filing a Complaint: The party seeking the injunction (plaintiff) files a complaint, outlining why they believe they are entitled to it.
  • Requesting the Injunction: The plaintiff submits a separate motion or petition, often accompanied by an affidavit or evidence supporting their claim.
  • Hearing: The court holds a hearing where both parties present their arguments. For TROs, this might be done without the other party’s presence.
  • Court’s Decision: The court will decide whether to grant or deny the application based on the aforementioned criteria.

See case: Mareva Compania Naviera v International Bulk Carriers (The Mareva) (1980)

Implications of Violating an Injunction

Violating it can have serious consequences. Those who do not adhere to the court’s order may face:

  • Contempt of court charges
  • Fines
  • Jail time
  • Other penalties deemed appropriate by the court

What Is Meant By “Irreparable Harm” In The Context of Injunctions?

“Irreparable harm” in the context of injunctions refers to a type of injury or damage that cannot be adequately remedied or compensated by monetary damages alone.

When an aggrieved party applies, they often must demonstrate that without the court accepting the application, they will suffer harm that is not only significant but also incapable of being fully rectified by a financial award at a later date.

This harm is typically of such a nature that once done, it cannot be undone, or the resulting consequences would be long-lasting and permanent.

Establishing the potential for irreparable harm is crucial in many jurisdictions for granting preliminary injunctions, as courts aim to prevent severe and lasting injuries before a final decision is made in a case.

The concept ensures that the judiciary intervenes when there’s a pressing need to maintain the status quo and prevent detrimental actions.

How Does The Court Consider “Public Interest” When Deciding On An Injunction?

When courts weigh the decision to grant an injunction, “public interest” plays a pivotal role. Public interest refers to the general welfare or well-being of the community.

In this context, courts assess whether issuing or denying the application would serve or potentially harm societal interests. This consideration ensures that legal remedies don’t inadvertently disadvantage the broader community.

For example, suppose it is sought to halt the construction of a community centre based on a contractual dispute. In that case, the court might weigh the immediate rights of the aggrieved party against the long-term benefits the centre might provide to the community.

Factors like public safety, economic consequences, societal values, and the promotion of public policies may also influence the court’s decision.

While individual rights and harms are paramount in these decisions, the broader implications for society are also judiciously considered to strike a balanced and just outcome.


Injunctions are powerful legal tools that can significantly impact the rights and behaviours of parties in a lawsuit. They can provide essential relief in situations where monetary damages might not be adequate, and their enforcement is critical to upholding the rule of law.

Whether you are a budding lawyer, someone involved in a legal dispute, or just a curious mind, understanding it can provide valuable insight into how our legal system seeks to prevent and redress harm.

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