A cease and desist letter can land on your doormat and be completely unexpected, or it can represent the next stage in a dispute and mean that civil proceedings are around the corner. Either way, it’s time to take some professional legal advice.

What is a cease and desist letter?

A lawyer usually issues a cease and desist letter and formally requests that a specific activity or behaviour stop.

The letter will usually reference the illegality of the situation, so perhaps there is a particular statute quoted, or the actions constitute a wrongful act, or an infringement of a right. Typically, the letter states legal action will follow if the activity or behaviour doesn’t stop, hence the name.

Responding to a cease and desist letter

Ignore the letter and carry on

Ignoring the letter and carrying on in the stated activity is one option, and people sometimes do this if they firmly believe they are in the right.

However, it is a risky strategy to do this, bearing in mind that a lawyer has likely drafted the cease and desist letter, so the case’s merits have already been considered by at least one legal professional.

However, if the individual writes the cease and desist letter, that’s a different matter. It could contain all kinds of wild accusations and assertions with no actual basis in law.

Some people will ignore a cease and desist letter and call the other party’s bluff.

Cease and desist

Another option is to stop the behaviour altogether; sometimes, an officially worded cease and desist letter can be enough to prevent a contentious situation from escalating.

Defend the claims made in the letter

Even though a lawyer has drafted a cease and desist letter, its claim may still be spurious because the individual behind the letter has not revealed the whole story, or the entire basis for the letter is untrue. In this case, the recipient of a cease and desist letter may choose to defend the allegations despite the looming threat of court action.

At this stage, legal advice is essential to test the merits of the case, and not least, because if the deadline stated in the letter is not met, then civil proceedings could follow.

Professional guidance will help establish whether the case has any legal basis, and an experienced lawyer can suggest the best way forward. This isn’t always taking the fight to court.

Sometimes, engaging in legal action is simply not justified or much too expensive. Mediation, alternative dispute resolution, or just a practical solution such as desisting in the behaviour and moving away from the other party may be more feasible.

If the letter’s recipient wants to defend the claim, they must provide evidence. A solicitor can help to protect the infringement of the recipient’s rights.

Issuing a cease and desist letter in response

Another option is for the recipient of the letter to go on the offensive and issue their own cease and desist letter in reply. This should only be done based on sound legal advice and guidance as part of a considered response.

What happens next if the recipient ignores a cease and desist letter?

What happens next is up to the issuer of the letter and their legal representative.

Despite the contents of a cease and desist letter and the possibility of legal action if they are not complied with, some disputes can become so bitter and entrenched, especially personal ones, that the recipient won’t stop their behaviour.

Often, if the recipient firmly believes they are in the right, usually that person has not taken any independent professional advice on the legalities of the situation. Even though the letter will have detailed the legal position, some people still choose not to act.

The issuer of the letter is not obliged to commence legal proceedings if their cease and desist letter is ignored.

However, it’s risky to go to the effort of consulting a lawyer and threatening court action if there is no real intent to follow it up. Often, this worsens the situation and gives the recipient of the letter the upper hand.

Sometimes, a cease and desist letter acts as a short, sharp shock – perhaps the recipient wasn’t aware they were breaking the law and were simply blinded by what they believed to be the rights of their situation. The letter can be enough to stop the behaviour or activity dead in its tracks with the threat of court action in the future if it resumes.

The issuer of a cease and desist letter should consider the situation in the round. Going to court is expensive and has other consequences, even if you are in the right. Do you really think you can carry on living next door in peaceful co-harmony with someone you have just successfully sued in court? That’s a bit unrealistic.

The letter writer should always be prepared to follow through; otherwise, a cease and desist letter is just an empty threat. That’s why both sides must take legal advice and understand their actions’ real consequences and costs.

Why do people issue a cease and desist letter?

A cease and desist letter requests an activity or behaviour to stop. They are usually issued by a solicitor, which indicates that previous requests from one party to another have not been effective.

What’s in a cease and desist letter?

The letter should define the problem and support this with a basis in law. There will be a demand that the activity or behaviour stop, and sometimes, there is a defined deadline.

There is usually information about what will happen if the letter is ignored and a statement reserving the issuer’s legal rights.

Final thoughts on responding to a cease and desist letter

Issuing a response to a cease and desist letter usually requires professional guidance. An experienced lawyer can review the content of the letter and decide, based on that and the recipient’s account, whether there is any legal basis for court action.

A legal professional can also help defuse the situation and provide constructive advice on the best way forward, which is practical and cost-effective.

Even if a cease and desist letter has been issued, other ways exist to resolve disputes without heading to court, including mediation and alternative dispute resolution.

This content was written and reviewed by a lawyer but it does not constitute legal advice. We always recommend engaging a lawyer before taking any legal action.

Frequently asked questions

I want to start legal proceedings. Do I need to send a cease and desist letter first?

It is usual to give fair warning and ask for actions or behaviour to cease before following up with legal action. A cease and desist letter can be a letter before action, and it’s always worth sending because it might just have the desired effect, saving the time, stress, and cost of court proceedings.

Sometimes, the court will instruct a party to send a cease and desist letter as part of pre-action protocols.

What is the difference between a cease and desist letter and a letter of demand?

There is very little difference, as a lawyer typically issues both letters, and they are often a precursor to legal action. However, a letter of demand most commonly asks for payment of money. In contrast, a cease and desist letter requests a third party to refrain from a particular action or activity.

Should I respond to a cease and desist letter that has not been produced by a lawyer?

Most cease and desist letters are produced by lawyers rather than the individual themselves; they simply don’t carry enough weight otherwise.

If you receive a cease and desist letter from an individual or business, the contents could be perfectly valid. There is no prescribed format in law for a cease and desist letter.

It is worth reviewing the letter’s contents with a solicitor as the claims and the points of law may be valid. However, it is less likely that court action will follow if a legal professional has not written the letter, as there may be no substantive basis for the activity or behaviour to stop.

I want to send a cease and desist letter. How can I be sure it arrives?

Your legal representative will send the letter either by courier or some form of registered post. It is essential to be able to demonstrate the letter has been delivered to the recipient, especially if court action is going to follow.

There are no specific legal requirements about the service of the letter but claiming that it has not arrived is a well-known tactic, and most lawyers are aware of this. They will ensure they can demonstrate effective delivery and receipt.

Email is an option as long as the correct receipts are attached. Usually, this is accompanied by a hard copy document going by post or courier.