What Does Legalisation Mean?

Posted: 14th July 2014

Legalisation is the solution to the problem posed when a public document issued in one country is to be used in another. For example, to avoid double taxation in China a company submits a certificate of fiscal residence issued by HM Revenue & Customs to prove that its tax domicile is the UK. How is the Chinese State Administration of Taxation to be satisfied that the certificate of fiscal residence being provided is validly issued by the British authorities? The answer lies in presenting it to China’s consular mission in the UK for verification. This process, which culminates in the Chinese Consulate affixing its official stamp to the certificate of fiscal residence, is known as “legalisation”. In more general terms, legalisation therefore refers to the process whereby the consulate of a particular country verifies that a public document issued within the jurisdiction where its mission is based bears the genuine signature, seal or stamp of the authority or notary that produced it.

Despite the tremendous advantage of establishing a system for the international verification of public documents, legalisation does have one drawback. That is the lack of a unified system means that the procedure, time-scale and cost of legalisation vary from one consulate to the next. Thankfully, this situation was addressed as far back as 1961 with a treaty formulated by an organisation based in the Netherlands called the Hague Conference on Private International Law. On 5th October 1961 the Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents, known simply as the “Hague Apostille Convention”, entered into force. This piece of international law dispenses with the need to legalise public documents at consular level. In its place, a contracting state must verify its own public documents by means of a stamp known as an “Apostille” where these are to be presented for use in another contracting state. The competent authority within the UK to issue Apostilles is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and, at the time of writing, the number of countries which have ratified the Hague Apostille Convention stands at 108.

The Apostille system marks a switch in the verification process of public documents to the country where these are issued from the consular missions which are based in that country. The key advantage of this process over consular legalisation is that public documents, once stamped with an Apostille in one contracting state, can be used in every other contracting state.
There are nevertheless a large number of countries that have not adopted the Hague Apostille Convention and so the existing system of legalisation at consular level remains. Consequently, the question of how can public documents issued in one jurisdiction for use in another is just as relevant now as it has ever been. Notaries Public in London are amongst the best positioned people to provide the answer. With their wealth of experience with the FCO and consulates established in the UK, Notaries Public in London possess the expertise in order to advise clients not just of the relevant verification process, but also its likely cost and time-frame. Furthermore, arranging this process is amongst the services frequently offered by Notaries Public in London.


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