3.1 Legal Background
The 1969 Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents (the Convention) entered into force for Australia on 16 March 1995. The Convention simplifies the authentication process by allowing a certificate, called an Apostille, to be issued on a 'public document' (as defined by the Convention). Once an Apostille has been issued on a document, no further authentication is required by a foreign or Australian embassy/consulate.
The list of countries that are party to this Convention – and that will therefore accept an Apostille instead of authentication - can be found at www.hcch.net/e/status/stat12e.html. There is also a link to this site on the DFAT website (look under 'Apostilles').
3.2 The Department's role
The Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is the designated competent authority in Australia for issuing Apostilles. This authority is delegated to certain officers in Canberra and the State and Territory offices. Apostilles must not be issued by Australian embassies/consulates.
The Department's website contains comprehensive information for clients seeking the issuing of an Apostille. Clients who have additional questions about the requirements of an overseas jurisdiction, including whether an authentication or Apostille is required, should be referred to the Consulate or Embassy of the country in which the document is to be used.
The Department is unable to provide legal advice to members of the public. Clients unsure of the legal requirements regarding a particular document should be advised to seek private legal advice. Overseas posts may provide the client with the post's list of local lawyers.
3.3 Issuing an Apostille
An Apostille certifies the origin of a public document; the identity of the person signing the document; the capacity in which that person has acted; and the name of the authority which has affixed a seal or stamp to the document. An Apostille does not verify the contents of the document.
Officers may issue an Apostille where they are satisfied:
- that the document is an original 'public document';
- that the signature (stamp/seal) appearing on the document is that of the person/organisation of which it purports to be;
- as to the capacity of the person whose signature (stamp/seal) appears on the document; and
- that the country in which the document is to be used (where known) is a party to the Convention.
See section 2.5 for guidance on what to do when the DFAT has no record of the signature/seal. See 3.9 for the wording and appearance of an Apostille.
3.4 Public documents
Under the Convention, the Department may only issue Apostilles on Australian public documents. Public documents include:
- documents emanating from an authority or an official connected with the courts or tribunals of the State, including those originating from a public prosecutor, a clerk of the court or a process server (this would include administrative tribunals);
- public administrative documents (this is very broad and would appear to cover any document prepared by an administrative agency or authority of the Commonwealth, a State or Territory, eg. birth, death and marriage certificates);
- documents issued/signed by Notaries Public.
The following documents are not 'public documents' for the purposes of issuing Apostilles:
- documents executed by foreign diplomatic or consular agents in Australia (whereas you can authenticate these signatures);
- administrative documents dealing directly with commercial or customs operations e.g. export certificates, certificates of origin (such documents are exempt from the issuing of Apostilles);
- documents issued or signed by Justices of the Peace, Commissioners for Declarations or solicitors unless they have been issued and contain the stamp and/or seal of a Court.
Attachment B provides additional information regarding specific classes of documents.
Where the receiving country has requested an Apostille but doubt exists as to whether the document qualifies as a public document, the client may be requested to have the document notarised/attested by a notary public before an Apostille may be issued.
Unsigned public documents
An Apostille can be issued on an unsigned document bearing an original seal or stamp - provided the seal or stamp is from an authority which would normally qualify for an Apostille. The Apostille would in this case be issued by verifying the authority which has affixed the seal or stamp. Blank spaces at Items 2 and 3 of the Apostille stamp should be crossed out. The Apostilleregister must give the name of the authority which has affixed the seal or stamp.
3.5 Multi-page Documents
Not all multi-page documents need to be bound. There are some time-saving advantages in doing so, however, and binding can reduce the cost to the public. A document can only be bound if the signature of the person whose signature is being authenticated appears on each page of the document. There are occasions when an overseas authority will request that a document be bound. Guidance on the correct method to bind documents is at Attachment E.
3.6 Foreign Language or Translations of Documents
Apostilles may be issued on foreign language documents only if they have been notarised by a Notary Public or have been translated and signed/stamped by a government translating service (e.g. the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI)). While the foreign language document is not itself an Australian public document, it is the signature/seal of the Notary Public or government translation authority that the Apostille is placed on and not the origin of the document.
3.7 Apostille Register
Pursuant to Article 7 of the Convention, Canberra and State and Territory offices must maintain a register to record details every Apostille issued office. The register must include:
- the registration number and date of the certificate; and
- the name of the person signing the public document and the capacity in which he/she has acted.
The registration number consists of one alphabetical character followed by a sequential four-digit number. The alphabetical character denotes which state office has issued the Apostille: A for Adelaide, B for Brisbane, C for Canberra, D for Darwin, H for Hobart, M for Melbourne, P for Perth and S for Sydney. For example: the first Apostille registered in Sydney was numbered S0001. The Apostille Register will be available through the Signature and Seals Database.
Under the Consular Fees Act, the fee for authentication of a document is currently AUD60 for each authentication plus an additional AUD20 if the document requires binding.
3.9 Wording and appearance of an Apostille
The wording and appearance of an Apostille is governed by the Convention, which states "the certificate takes the form of a square with sides at least 9 cm long and it must include a number of standard and numbered items".
An Apostille may be in the form of a stamp or computer-generated statement with the format and wording of the sample below. The computer-generated version will be available shortly on the Signature and Seals database. The stamped version of the Apostille should be black, square with sides 9cm long. (It's good practice to use black pen when completing details.) The computer-generated Apostille should be black, square with sides 15 cm long. (The smaller size of the stamped version is useful when space is limited). It is usually placed on the back of a document or attached to the document itself.
The signature of the officer signing the Apostille should be covered with a black Departmental wet seal (on the right-hand side). A red wafer with the Departmental seal impress should be affixed on the left-hand side at No. 9 Seal/Stamp.
An Apostille is usually placed on the back of the document. However, where an Apostille must be affixed to a separate sheet, the sheet should bear a black Commonwealth crest in the centre top of the page. The binding of the document should be with dark green ribbon and the ends of the tape covered by a red notarial wafer with the seal impressed over the wafer (to the extent possible given the thickness of the ribbon).
(Convention de La Haye du 5 octobre 1961)
1. Country: Australia
This public document
2. has been signed by…………………………….......
3. acting in the capacity of ……………………………
4. bears the seal/stamp of…………………………….
5. at…………………….6. the……………………….….
9. Seal/Stamp: 10. Signature