Purpose of the Convention

The purpose of the Convention is to abolish the requirement of legalisation and to facilitate the use of public documents abroad.  Abolishing the requirement of legalisation8In general, a public document may be produced in the State in which it is executed without the need for its origin to be verified. This is based on the principle that the origin of the document lies in the document itself (acta probant sese ipsa), without the need for additional verification of its origin. When the document is produced abroad, however, its origin may require verification. This is because the recipient may not be familiar with the identity or official capacity of the person signing the document, or the identity of the authority whose seal/stamp it bears. As a result, States began to require that the origin of a foreign public document be certified by an official who is familiar with the document. It is against that background that the procedure known as “legalisation” developed.

Legalisation describes the procedures whereby the signature/seal/stamp on a public document is certified as authentic by a series of public officials along a “chain” to a point where the ultimate authentication is readily recognised by an official of the State of destination and can be given legal effect there. As a practical matter, Embassies and Consulates of the State of destination located in (or accredited to) the State of origin are ideally situated to facilitate this process. However, Embassies and Consulates do not maintain samples of the signatures/seals/stamps of every authority or public official in the State of origin, so an intermediate authentication between the authority or public official that executed the public document in that State and the Embassy or Consulate is often required. In most cases, this involves an authentication by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the State of origin. However, depending on the law of the State of execution, a series of authentications may be required before the document can be presented to the Embassy or Consulate for authentication. Then, depending on the law of the State of destination, the seal/stamp of the Embassy or Consulate may be recognised directly by the official in that State, or may need to be presented to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of that State for a final authentication.While differences exist among States, the legalisation “chain” typically involves a number of links, which results in a cumbersome, time-consuming and costly process. 

The simplified process put in place by t he apostille conventionWhere it applies, the Apostille Convention abolishes the legalisation process and replaces it with a single formality: the issuance of an authentication certificate – called an “Apostille” – by an authority designated by the State of origin – called the “Competent Authority”.