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The Apostille and its Importance to International Document Legalisation

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

In the modern legal landscape, there are a great many instances where an organisation or individual will require the authentication of a document for use overseas – a process that is often lengthy and subject to challenges.

In this article, Lawyer Monthly hears from experienced notary public Mihail Florin Gavrila, who discusses the vital role played by the Apostille Convention and skilled notaries in international document legalisation.

Can you outline the role and functions of notaries public in England, in the context of international documents acceptance?

A notary public in England is a public officer appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, regulated by the Court of Faculties.

In England, one of the primary responsibilities of a notary public is to confirm the authenticity of documents intended for use overseas. They accomplish this by validating the identity, capacity and willingness of the individual involved in the transaction. The purpose of the notarization procedure is to prevent fraud and ensure that documents are legally recognised in other countries.

If they wish to purchase property in Spain, for instance, British nationals are required to present specific legal documentation. Before these documents can be recognised in Spain, they must first be notarised in England. Here is where a public notary enters play. After verifying the legitimacy of the documents and the individual’s identity, they notarise the documents.

In England, the notary public is also responsible for administering oaths and declarations and producing legal documents for international use. A nApotary public is essential to the procedure, even if they do not issue the apostille themselves. After the document has been notarised by a public notary, it is sent to the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) in England for the apostille to be affixed. The apostille validates the document for international use by confirming the authenticity of the notarization. Can you please give a broad summary of the obstacles that may prevent some documents from being legally recognised internationally?

In the first place, the disparity between national legal systems is one of the greatest obstacles. Countries with civil law, common law, hybrid, or traditional legal systems have distinct requirements for document recognition. Other jurisdictions may not require notarisation.

Next, problems associated with the authentication of authenticity present yet another formidable barrier. Even if a document has been notarised by a notary public, it may still require additional authentication for foreign recognition. This procedure may require an apostille, a certification under the 1961 Hague Convention, or consular legalisation in countries that are not party to the Convention. Additionally, language barriers pose a substantial barrier to the international acceptance of documents. A certified translation may be required if a document is written in a language not comprehended in the receiving jurisdiction.

Beyond this, document submission timeliness can impact international legal recognition. In some jurisdictions, documents must be issued recently or notarised to be considered authentic.

Lastly, changes in the legal status or personal circumstances of the parties involved may prevent international legal recognition of a document. For instance, previously issued documents may no longer be valid if a person gets married or divorced, changes their name, or if a business alters its organisational structure or ceases to exist. What is the Apostille Convention and how does it help to rectify the issue of international legalisation?

The Apostille Convention is an international agreement formulated by the Hague Conference on Private International Law. It was intended to end the need for foreign documents to be authenticated by diplomatic or consular officers of the receiving country. The origin of the term ‘apostille’ is French, where it refers to a certification or annotation. It refers to the certificate issued in accordance with the Convention that verifies the origin of a public document.

According to the Apostille Convention, public documents issued in one signatory country and intended for use in another signatory country are recognised without the need for consular legalisation – the traditional method of validating documents for international use. This substantially simplifies the process of document legalisation by eliminating the previously required authentication steps.

The process begins with the issuance of the document in the country of origin by an authorised individual or entity, such as a notary public. The apostille is affixed to the document by a designated competent authority, such as the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) in the United Kingdom. The apostille certifies the signature’s authenticity, the signer’s capacity, and, if applicable, the identity of the seal or stamp affixed to the document.

The Apostille Convention has had a transformative effect on the international exchange of documents, with several substantial advantages. Eliminating the need for multiple authentications or legalisations will save time and simplify the process.

Expenses are also reduced. Multiple authentications and legalisations can rapidly add up in cost, especially if translation or international shipping is required. By requiring a single certification, the Apostille Convention reduces these expenses. This increases the legal certainty. The apostille ensures that public documents are acknowledged expeditiously, and that the possibility of documents being denied due to doubts about their authenticity is minimised.

How far does the Apostille Convention apply? What countries are not subject to the Convention?

The 1961 Apostille Convention or Hague Convention standardises the process of document authentication among member nations, enabling the free and efficient transfer of public documents across international borders.

However, many countries are not subject to the Apostille Convention. Various examples include Afghanistan, Canada (The Apostille Convention will come into effect in Canada on 11 January 2024), Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, the UAE (United Arab Emirates) and Zimbabwe.

The expedited procedure of the Apostille Convention does not apply to documents destined for use in these non-participating nations. These documents must instead undergo consular legalisation, a more traditional and frequently complex procedure.

Consular legalisation necessitates multiple verification procedures. After notarisation in the country of origin, the document must be legalised by the department of foreign affairs in the country of issuance. Following this, the document must be legalised by the embassy or consulate of the destination country. Particularly for first-time participants or organisations, the process can be time-consuming, expensive, and occasionally perplexing.

The distinction between Apostille Convention participants and non-participants regarding the simplicity of document legalisation highlights the Convention’s vital role in facilitating international transactions. However, it also highlights the challenges faced by countries that are not signatories to the Convention.

Nonparticipation can be caused by a variety of factors. Some nations may not have joined the Convention because their legal systems are fundamentally distinct or incompatible with its principles. Others may be unable to utilise the Convention’s streamlined procedure due to administrative or practical constraints.

Despite these obstacles, overall participation in the Apostille Convention is rising. This trend is fuelled by a growing awareness of the Convention’s benefits, which include reducing the costs and saving time associated with international document exchange.

When it comes to these countries, what other options would an individual or organisation have for ensuring that a key document is recognised?

The Apostille Convention has significantly streamlined the procedure for signatory nations to recognise foreign documents. Individuals and institutions from countries that are not signatories to the Convention, however, must rely on alternative means to ensure international recognition of their most vital documents.

Countries that are not signatories of the Apostille Convention require consular legalisation to recognise documents. In contrast to the streamlined procedure outlined in the Convention, consular legalisation involves multiple stages and multiple authorities, thereby increasing the procedure’s complexity and duration.

Typically, the process of consular legalisation begins with the notarisation of the document in the issuing country by a notary public. The document is then legalised by the country’s foreign affairs department. The final step is for the embassy or consulate of the country in which the document will be used to authenticate it.

This procedure may appear daunting, but it can be navigated in a variety of ways. Many nations provide online access to distinct guidelines and procedures that assist individuals and organisations in understanding and traversing the consular legalisation process.

Second, there are services available to assist with the legalisation of documents. These services can manage the entire process, from notarization to embassy legalisation, thereby saving time and decreasing the likelihood of error. Some of these services also offer document translation, which may be necessary if the document is to be used in a country where the official language differs from the document’s language.

A chain of authentications, also known as the ‘Chain Authentication Method’ or ‘Chain Attestation Method’, is an alternative to consular legalisation in certain circumstances. The document is ultimately authenticated by the embassy or consulate of the country where it will be utilised. This procedure can be even more time-consuming and costly than consular legalisation, but it may be the only option if consular legalisation is not feasible.

In the UK, what is the process involved in arranging for a document to be legalised via an apostille certificate?

Formerly known as the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) administers the apostille certificate application process in the United Kingdom. The FCDO issues an apostille certificate to legalise United Kingdom public documents for use in apostille Convention member countries.

The first step in acquiring an apostille certificate is establishing that the document is a UK public document. The FCDO can only issue an apostille for original or certified copies of British documents. Documents that can be legalised include birth, marriage, and death certificates, court documents, and documents issued by a notary public or government agency.

After obtaining the appropriate document, it must be evaluated to ensure apostille eligibility. The FCDO verifies that the document bears the signature, stamp, or seal of a public organisation or official in the UK. This may be a registrant’s signature on a marriage certificate or the notary’s seal on a document.


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