Search orders

Acknowledgement: the following material was originally prepared by the Honourable Justice P Biscoe of the Land and Environment Court and updated by Judicial Commission staff.

Portions of this chapter are adapted with permission from Chapter 7 of P Biscoe, Freezing and Search Orders: Mareva and Anton Piller Orders, 2nd edn, LexisNexis Butterworths, Australia, 2008.

[2-1000] Introduction

Search orders are governed by detailed rules in UCPR Pt 25, Div 3 (rr 25.18–25.24) and Practice Note SC Gen 13 (“PN 13”) available on the Supreme Court website at

The practice note applies to the Court of Appeal and, Equity and Common Law divisions of the Supreme Court and includes example forms of ex parte orders which are complex. They should not be significantly varied without good reason.

An object of the rules, practice notes and forms is to strike a fair balance between the legitimate objects of these drastic orders and the reasonable protection of respondents and third parties.

[2-1010] Search orders

Search orders are also known as Anton Piller orders. The title “search orders” follows the title used in the English rules. The original name “Anton Piller order” derives from the seminal case of Anton Piller KG v Manufacturing Processes Ltd [1976] 1 Ch 55.

The object of a search order is to preserve evidence needed to prove the applicant’s claim which is in danger of destruction, concealment or removal from the jurisdiction. It does so by ordering the respondent to permit the applicant’s representatives and an independent supervising solicitor to enter, search, copy documents and remove property from the respondent’s premises for safekeeping. A species of discovery of the most extreme kind, it lies at the limit of a court’s civil jurisdiction. The heartland of the search order is copyright infringement and breach of confidence.

A search order is normally obtained ex parte without notice to the respondent and before service of the originating process, because notice or service may prompt the feared destruction or disappearance of evidence.

The execution of a search order is a serious invasion of people’s privacy. While it is an important tool in ensuring that evidence is preserved so that justice may be done, such orders should only be made on an ex parte basis if the applicant discharges their duty of candour so that the court is fully appraised of all relevant matters to the exercise of its discretion in such an important decision. The need for candour is particularly acute on duty judge applications, where judges often have insufficient time to review affidavits and documentary evidence in detail: Showcase Realty Pty Ltd v Nathan Circosta [2021] NSWSC 355 at [36].

The characteristics of a search order are secrecy, mandatory form and virtually immediate execution. A search order does not permit forcible entry. In that crucial respect it differs from a search warrant. A search party encountering resistance to entry or search must depart: Anton Piller KG v Manufacturing Processes Ltd at 61. The main sanction for disobedience to a search order is contempt of court.

Concern about the draconian effect of search orders, and the fact that they are made against respondents who have not been notified or heard, have led to detailed safeguards being built into the example form of order in Practice Note 13.

Although a search order is normally ex parte and granted before service of the originating process, it has also been granted after judgment in order to obtain documents essential to the execution of the judgment where there was a serious risk that a respondent would remove or destroy them in order to frustrate enforcement: Distributori Automatici Italia SPA v Holford General Trading Co [1985] 1 WLR 1066.

[2-1020] Requirements

The court may make a search order if the following requirements set out in r 25.20 are satisfied (they are modelled on those stated in Anton Piller per Ormiston LJ):


an applicant seeking the order has a strong prima facie case on an accrued cause of action;


the potential or actual loss or damage to the applicant will be serious if the search order is not made; and


there is sufficient evidence in relation to a respondent that


the respondent possesses important evidentiary material; and


there is a real possibility that the respondent might destroy such material or cause it to be unavailable for use in evidence in a proceeding or anticipated proceedings before the court.

In every case, the court will balance the strength of the case, the seriousness of the damage, the gravity of the risk of destruction, and the potential injury to the defendant. These are factors to be taken into account in the exercise of a discretion, rather than essential proofs: Brags Electrics Ltd v Gregory [2010] NSWSC 1205 at [18]. See Global Medical Solutions Australia v Axiom Molecular [2012] NSWSC 1262 at [11]–[24] for an example of how the court weighed these considerations in determining that the requirements of r 25.20 had been made good. The crux of the evidence required to obtain a search order often concerns the third requirement that there is a “real possibility” that the respondent might destroy the material or cause it to be unavailable for use unless an ex parte order is made. This will usually require clear evidence of matters such as dishonesty, fraud or contumacy or the transitory nature of the respondent’s business, but such cases may be quite common.

[2-1030] Safeguards

Safeguards for the protection of respondents have been built into the example form attached to Practice Note 13. The most important is the appointment of one or more independent solicitors to supervise the search and report to the court. This is a mandatory requirement and the only safeguard expressly mentioned in the rules: r 25.23. Other safeguards appear in the example form and are mentioned in Practice Note 13. The responsibilities of a supervising solicitor are set out in the example form and are summarised in Practice Note 13 [11] as follows:

[2-1040] Sample orders

The applicant’s solicitor is required to undertake to the court to pay the reasonable costs and disbursements of the independent solicitor and any independent computer expert: PN 13 example form Sch B [1].

[2-1050] Sample orders

Other safeguards for the respondent include the following:

  • The respondent is not required to permit anyone to enter the premises until the independent solicitor serves the order and affidavits and the respondent is given an opportunity to read the order. If requested, the independent solicitor must explain the terms of the order: PN 13 example form [11].

  • Before permitting entry to the premises by anyone other than the independent solicitor, the respondents for a time (not exceeding two hours from the time of service or such longer period as the independent solicitor may permit) may seek legal advice, may ask the court to vary or discharge the order, and (provided the respondent is not a corporation) may gather together anything which the respondent believes may tend to incriminate the respondent or make the respondent liable to a civil penalty and hand them to the independent solicitor. Similarly the respondent may gather together any documents that passed between you and your lawyers for the purpose of obtaining legal advice or for which legal professional privilege or client legal privilege is claimed and hand them to the independent solicitor: PN 13 example form [12].

  • Documents for which privilege is claimed which have been handed to the instructing solicitor must be delivered to the court on the return date without having been inspected by anyone: PN 13 example form [13].

  • Ordinarily a search order should be served between 9 am and 2 pm on a business day in order to permit the respondent more readily to obtain legal advice, and must not be executed at the same time as execution of a search warrant: PN 13 [13] and [14].

  • Anything the subject of a dispute as to whether it is a thing the subject of the search order must promptly be handed by the respondent to the independent solicitor for safekeeping pending resolution of the dispute or further order of the court: PN 13 example form [15].

  • The premises must not be searched and things removed except in the presence of the respondent or a person who appears to the independent solicitor to be the respondent’s director, officer, partner, employee, agent or other person acting on the respondent’s behalf or instructions: PN 13 example form [17]. This requirement may be waived by the independent solicitor if he or she considers that full compliance with it is not reasonably practicable: PN 13 example form [18].

  • If it is expected that a computer will be searched, the search party must include an independent computer expert who has prescribed responsibilities: PN 13 example form [20].

  • Other safeguards appear in the various undertakings by the applicant, the applicant’s solicitor, the instructing solicitor and any independent computer expert which are set out in Sch B to the example form.

[2-1060] Disclosure of customers and suppliers

It has become common for search orders to require respondents to provide information and documents as to their suppliers and customers. Such a provision appears in the PN 13 example form [23]:

[2-1070] Sample orders

[2-1080] Gagging order

Except for the sole purpose of obtaining legal advice, the respondent is usually prohibited until 4.30 pm on the return date from informing anyone of the proceedings or of the contents of the order or from telling anyone that a proceeding has been or may be brought by the applicant: PN 13 example form [25]. A similar obligation is cast on the applicant by undertaking (3) in Sch B to the example form. Such a gagging order has been rationalised on the basis that it gives the applicant an opportunity to use information obtained from the search so as to locate and preserve evidence and assets in the possession or control of others.

[2-1090] Cross-examination

As in freezing order cases, the court may grant leave to cross-examine a respondent on disclosures.

[2-1095] Setting aside a search order

An applicant seeking to set aside an ex parte order bears the onus of showing why it should be set aside: Brags Electrics Ltd v Gregory [2010] NSWSC 1205 at [10], [17]. It may be a sufficient reason to set aside the order that the grounds for such an order were not satisfied. Where search orders have already been executed, the court may set aside the orders ab initio if there has been bad faith or material non-disclosure. Otherwise a discharge will operate in futuro only: Brags Electrics Ltd at [17] per Brereton J. The court may take into account on the hearing of the application the “fruits of the order” — that is to say, any evidence or admission procured as a result of the order — and any further evidence adduced in the meantime. The test for determining whether a non-disclosure is “material” was explained by Ball J in Principal Financial Group Pty Ltd v Vella [2011] NSWSC 327 at [17].

See further r 36.16(2)(b) and Showcase Realty Pty Ltd v Nathan Circosta [2021] NSWSC 355.

[2-1100] Risks for applicants and their solicitors

Applicants or their solicitors, who do not comply with requirements imposed on them by a search order or who act scandalously on its execution, are in contempt of court, and may be liable in damages to the respondent, and run the risk that the search order may be set aside or not continued. In Long v Specifier Publications Pty Ltd (1998) 44 NSWLR 545 in which the New South Wales Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal from a finding of contempt of court for breaches of undertakings to the court given by a solicitor for the applicant when he obtained a search order for his client.

Another risk eventuated in Canadian Bearings Ltd v Celanese Canada Inc (2006) SCC 36. There privileged documents obtained pursuant to a search order came into the possession of the applicant’s lawyers. The Supreme Court of Canada ordered that those lawyers no longer act for the applicant. This risk should be minimised under points 12 and 13 of the Example Form of Search Order in PN 13, which permit the respondent to give the independent solicitor any documents for which privilege is claimed in a sealed container, and require the independent solicitor not to inspect or permit anyone to inspect them, and to deliver them to the court on the return date.

[2-1110] Costs

The court has a wide discretion as to costs orders under r 25.24:


The court may make any order as to costs that it considers appropriate in relation to an order made under this Division.


Without limiting the generality of subrule (1), an order as to costs includes an order as to the costs of any person affected by a search order.

Practice Note

  • SC Gen 13 (PN 13)


  • UCPR rr 25.18–25.24