History of the Hague Conference
The Hague Conference on Private International Law was established in 1893, and became a permanent intergovernmental organization in 1955, based in the The Netherlands. Today, the Hague Conference is the preeminent World Organization dealing with cross-border legal issues in criminal, civil and commercial matters.
Responding to the needs of a globalizing international community, the Hague Conference develops and holds actual conventions (there have been 45+ since 1893, as of 2018, with some years having more than one). These conventions deal with such diverse fields as Apostilles, service of process abroad, taking of evidence abroad, child abduction, inter-country adoption, and shares, bonds and other securities, etc. The Secretariat of the Hague Conference is called the Permanent Bureau. Click here to visit the Hague Conference’s website.
Apostilles came into being as they are known today on October 5, 1961 at one of three conventions held that year (all on the same day!). The full name of the convention is “Convention of 5 October 1961 Abolishing the Requirement of Legalization for Foreign Public Documents”, commonly called the Apostille Convention. Before Apostilles, a lengthy process to legalize documents was needed to use documents in a country other than the one where the document originated. Apostilles provide proof abroad that the public document in question has been verified to be signed by a real person, and in the correct capacity. (KMS can handle getting your document authenticated with an Apostille)
Purpose of the Convention (from the Hague Conference’s website, edited)
The Apostille Convention facilitates the circulation of public documents executed in one country to then be produced for use in another country. It does so by replacing the cumbersome and often costly formalities of a full legalization process (chain certification) with the mere issuance of an Apostille (also called Apostille Certificate or Certificate). This Convention has also proven to be very useful for countries that do not require foreign public documents to be legalized or that do not know the concept of legalization 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 country which, for its part, requires authentication of the document concerned.
The Convention applies only to public documents. These are documents emanating from an authority or official connected with a court or tribunal of the country (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 notarial attestations of signatures; academic diplomas issued by public institutions; etc. Apostilles may also be issued for a certified copy of a public document.
Not all countries participate
Note that Apostilles can only be used to and from countries who have agreed to be party to this convention. Not every country on the planet subscribes. This is called ‘being a party to the Apostille Convention). For consumers who need a document authenticated for a country that is not party to the Apostille Convention, they must get their document authenticated the old lengthy way, via a multi-step system involving Consulates and Embassies.
Monitoring of the Apostille Convention
The practical operation of the Apostille Convention is regularly reviewed by Special Commission meetings convened by the Permanent Bureau of the Hague Conference. The 2009 Special Commission confirmed the “very wide use and effectiveness” of the Convention, as well as the “absence of any major practical obstacle”. The Special Commission further reiterated 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 recent International Fora on the e-APP.
Electronic Registers Now in Use
In April 2006, the HCCH and the National Notary Association of the United States of America (NNA) officially launched the (then) electronic Apostille Pilot Program. The aim of the e-APP is to promote and assist with the implementation of low-cost, operational and secure software technology for (i) the issuance of electronic Apostilles (e-Apostilles) and (ii) the operation of electronic Registers of Apostilles that can be accessed online by recipients to verify the origin of (both paper and electronic) Apostilles they have received (the e-Registers). In light of the success of the Program, the word pilot was removed from the title of the e-APP in January 2012.
The e-APP is an effective tool to further enhance the secure and effective operation of the Apostille Convention; it dramatically increases security and offers a very powerful and effective deterrent to fraud. The e-APP is technology neutral and it does not privilege the use of one specific technology over another. The e-APP (the e-Apostille and/or e-Register component) has been implemented in several countries around the globe (including the USA), with others actively pursuing or considering implementation.