This term has been defined in Article 2 of the Hague Convention of October 5th, 1961 as " the formality by which the diplomatic or consular agents of the country in which a document is to be produced 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 it bears. "
The formality of legalisation is commonly referred to as " consularisation".
As a general rule, only documents issued by a Notary Public or some other public official in a country from which the document emanates are capable of being legalised, although some embassies or consulates append legalisations to private signatures, especially where the signatory is one of their nationals.
Legalisation is rarely necessary in the case of documents executed in England and Wales and intended for use in a Commonwealth country, but is generally a requirement if the document is to be used elsewhere.
In cases where a document requires legalisation, personal attendance by the Notary Public at the embassy or consulate is not necessary.
The Notary Public should, however, deposit there a specimen of his signature and an impression of his seal of office. A number of embassies and consulates in England and Wales will not legalise the signature and seal of a Notary Public.
In these cases the document must first be submitted to the Legalisation Office of the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in either central London or Milton Keynes, which appends a certificate to the document certifying the genuineness of the signature and seal of the Notary Public; thereafter, the document is presented to the embassy or consulate for legalisation of the signature of the Foreign Office official set to that certificate.
The Hague Convention of October 5th, 1961 abolishes the requirement for legalisation of public documents (defined therein to include acts of a Notary Public) which have been executed in the territory of one contracting state and have to be produced in the territory of one contracting state and have to be produced in the territory of another contracting state.
The Convention was ratified by the United Kingdom on August 21st, 1964, and entered into force for the United Kingdom on January 24th, 1965.
The states which are parties to the Convention agree to exempt from legalisation from legalisation by their consular or diplomatic authorities the public documents to which the Convention applies.
The formality of legalisation is replaced by the addition to such a document of a certificate (known as an "Apostille") issued by the competent authority of the state from which the document emanates. In the United Kingdom, the authority competent to issue Apostilles is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
It is important to note that the Convention does not introduce a requirement for the affixing of an Apostille where no requirement for legalisation would otherwise exist.
Although many Commonwealth countries are parties to the Convention, it is rarely necessary that a public document issued in the England and Wales for use in such a country will require the addition of an Apostille, since the courts in most Commonwealth countries take judicial notice of the signatures and seals of a Notary Public in England and Wales.
Should you require an Apostille and / or Legalisation and / or Consularisation, please telephone us on + 44 (0) 20 3178 5780 for an appointment.