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The Hague Convention and the end of legalisation.

The full Hague Convention and the reason you need an Apostille.

Purpose of the Convention

The Apostille Convention facilitates the circulation of public documents executed in one Contracting Party to the Convention and to be produced in another.

1 It replaces the cumbersome and often costly formalities of a full legalisation process (chain certification) with the mere issuance of an Apostille. The Convention has also proven very useful for countries that do not require foreign public documents to be legalised, or that do not know the concept of legalisation in their domestic law: the citizens in these countries enjoy the benefits of the Convention whenever they intend to produce a domestic public document in another Contracting Party which, for its part, requires authentication of the document concerned.

Public documents

The Convention applies only to public documents. As the Convention does not define “public document”, the “public” nature of a document is left to be determined by the law of the place where the document originates (i.e. the State of origin).

2 Nonetheless, Article 1 provides some guidance as to types of documents that can be considered “public”. These examples include documents emanating from an authority or official connected with a court or tribunal of the Contracting Party (including documents issued by an administrative, constitutional or ecclesiastical court or tribunal, a public prosecutor, a clerk or a process-server); administrative documents; notarial acts; and 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. The main examples of public documents for which Apostilles are issued in practice include birth, marriage and death certificates; extracts from commercial registers and other registers; patents; court rulings; notarial acts and attestations of signatures; academic diplomas issued by public institutions.3 Apostilles may also be issued for certified copies of a public document. Although the Convention does not strictly apply to documents executed by diplomatic or consular agents or to administrative documents dealing directly with commercial or customs operations, these Article 1(3) exclusions are to be interpreted extremely narrowly.

Who may issue an Apostille and how to verify the origin of an Apostille?

Apostilles may only be issued by a Competent Authority designated by the Contracting Party from which the public document emanates.4 The Permanent Bureau (Secretariat) of the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH) does not issue Apostilles.

The effect of an Apostille

The only effect of an Apostille is to certify the authenticity of the signature, the capacity in which the person signing the document has acted, and where appropriate, the identity of the seal or stamp which the document bears. The Apostille does not relate to the content of the underlying document itself (i.e., the apostillised public document).

Monitoring of the Convention

The practical operation of the Apostille Convention was last reviewed by a Special Commission in 2016. The Special Commission has reiterated at several meetings that the spirit and letter of the Convention ‘do not constitute an obstacle to the usage of modern technology’ and that the Convention’s application and operation can be further improved by relying on such technology. This finding was confirmed by the 2016 International Forum on the e-APP.

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