What is meant by document legalisation?
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 maybe 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 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 Apostille Convention is useful even for states that do not require legalisation for incoming documents. Not all States impose the requirement of legalisation on foreign public documents that have to be produced in their territory. This is particularly the case for many States with a common-law tradition.
However, the Apostille Convention is still important for these States, as it facilitates the circulation of public documents executed in their own territory that has to be produced in another Contracting State. Otherwise, the document could be subjected to the cumbersome legalisation process. This explains why many States that do not impose legalisation requirements on foreign public documents have joined the Convention: their citizens and businesses benefit from the Convention when they have to produce public documents in a State that does impose a legalisation requirement.