What is an Apostille?

23 Feb 2015, Legal, by broosco legal team

 

Apostille is the documentary device by which a government department authenticates a document as genuine, thereby legalizing it for use in another member country under the terms laid out in 1961. Once a document has been Apostilled, thereby providing official government authentication of the signatures and stamps appearing on it, it is automatically deemed legalized for use in another member country.

What is The Hague Convention? 

This is an intergovernmental convention which set about establishing a simplified system to allow documentation originating in one member country to be easily recognized as authentic in another member country. The norms were established at The Hague Convention of 6 October 1961.

It specifies the modalities through which a document issued in one of the signatory countries can be certified for legal purposes in all the other signatory states. Such a certification is the apostille. It is an international certification comparable to a notarisation in domestic law, and normally supplements a local notarisation of the document.

Apostilles are affixed by Competent Authorities designated by the government of a state which is party to the convention. A list of these authorities is maintained by the Hague Conference on Private International Law. Examples of designated authorities are embassies, ministries, courts or (local) governments. For example, in the United Kingdom, all apostilles are issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

To be eligible for an apostille, a document must first be issued or certified by an officer recognised by the authority that will issue the apostille.

The apostille itself is a stamp or printed form consisting of 10 numbered standard fields. On the top is the text APOSTILLE, under which the text Hague Convention of 5 October 1961 is placed. In the numbered fields the following information is added:

Country
This public document has been signed by ........... acting in the capacity of.................. bears the seal/stamp of ................

Certified at ......... the ... by ... .......... No ... ... Seal/stamp ... ........ Signature

The information can be placed on the (back of the) document itself, or attached to the document as an allonge.

Four types of documents are mentioned in the convention:court documents, administrative documents (e.g. civil status documents), notarial acts, official certificates which are placed on documents signed by persons in their private capacity, such as official certificates recording the registration of a document or the fact that it was in existence on a certain date and official and notarial authentications of signatures, all educational, non educational documents, commercial documents.

A State that has not signed the Convention must specify how foreign legal documents can be certified for its use. Two countries may have a special convention on the recognition of each other's public documents, but in practice this is infrequent. Otherwise, the document must be certified by the foreign ministry of the country where the document originated, and then by the foreign ministry of the government of the state where the document will be used; one of the certifications will often be performed at an embassy or consulate. In practice this means the document must be certified twice before it can have legal effect in the receiving country. For example, as a non-signatory, Canadian documents for use abroad must be certified by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs in Ottawa or by a Canadian consular official abroad and subsequently by the relevant government office or consulate of the receiving state.

The Apostille does not give information regarding the quality of the document, but certifies the signature (and the capacity of who placed it) and correctness of the seal/stamp on the document which must be certified. A risk comes from the fact that the various government stamps give the document an air of authenticity without anyone having checked the underlying document, so in February 2009 the Hague Conference decided to amend the wording on the Apostille to make it clear that no one was checking whether the document being attested was genuine or a fake. The new wording to be used was as follows. "This Apostille only certifies the signature, the capacity of the signer and the seal or stamp it bears. It does not certify the content of the document for which it was issued."

The convention is in force for all members of the European Union and all but 10 members of the Hague Conference on Private International Law. The most recent countries to accede to the convention are Nicaragua (entry into force 14 May 2013) and Bahrain (entry into force 31 December 2013.

The Hague Conference has currently 78 Members: 77 States and 1 Regional Economic Integration Organization. There is a difference between 'Members' (of the Hague Conference) and 'Parties' (to a Hague Convention): the States / Regional Economic Integration Organization listed below have accepted the Statute and are Members of the Hague Conference on Private International Law.

 

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