A preliminary injunction is an injunction which is issued by the court, before a matter has been decided, in order to preserve the status quo for the parties in the case. This temporary injunction is granted when one of the parties is able to satisfy the requirements for an injunction, demonstrating that it is necessary and that it is the only way to achieve the desired goal. Judges are not required to grant injunctions, and may decide that the situation does not merit one after examining the presentation of supporting evidence.
Injunctions are court orders which indicate that someone must immediately stop engaging in a given activity, or start engaging in a given activity, depending on the situation. In a simple example of a preliminary injunction, a judge might act to stop one party to a divorce from selling off goods which belong to the couple. Likewise, a preliminary injunction might be issued in a lawsuit about dangerous or faulty products to get the company to stop selling them until the case is decided.
The person requesting the preliminary injunction must demonstrate that she or he has a strong chance of winning, given the merits of the case, and that without the injunction, harm will be incurred. The injunction must also serve the public interest, and demonstrably reduce the risk of harm. The judge will engage in an activity known as balancing the equities, in which the factors of the case are weighed against each other to determine whether or not granting the injunction is reasonable.
When granting a preliminary injunction, the judge must take care to avoid treading on the rights of the person being ruled against. Because injunctions inhibit personal activities, they can be construed as a denial of basic rights or even a barrier to due process. A judge frames the language of the injunction to make the restrictions very clear and to avoid a situation in which the party may argue that the right to fair trial might have been abridged by the injunction.
Once the trial is finished and the matter is decided, the judge can opt to make the injunction permanent, or to strike it down. Generally, if the party filing the injunction wins the case, the preliminary injunction will be made permanent and upheld. If the filing party loses, the injunction will be removed because the merits of the case have been proved and there is no longer a reason for an injunction.