FCO Legalisations are increasing year on year. Director of the FCO Legalisation Unit Andrew Hamilton explained to consuls the FCO’s drive to modernise the service.
Legalisation is the largest single service provided by the Foreign Office, and the volume of work is growing by six per cent annually thanks to the globalisation of business, migration and travel.
Every year 30,000 calls are made to the Legalisation Office advice line.
Britain has dispensed with the requirement for foreign documents to be legalised prior to being presented in the UK. However the Foreign Office does legalise public UK documents that foreign governments require to enable British citizens to do business, study or live abroad.
Cutting red tape
The FCO has introduced a number of innovations to streamline procedures. In March this year it rolled out an online apostille service where foreign officials can check the authenticity of an apostille issued by the Legalisation Office. From 2015 the Legalisation Office will be introducing online payment, a new application process and a better-integrated legalisation platform.
Over the longer term, electronic apostilles are also a possibility should there be sufficient demand for this method of authentication.
Britain is also in the early stages of negotiations with its EU partners to abolish the requirement for certain public documents in EU countries to be legalised.
Public and private documents
Hamilton emphasised that the FCO only legalises public documents. This is because logistically it is not possible to verify the signatures of all private organisations on documents.
For a private document to become a public document it must be certified by a notary public who will take responsibility for checking the authenticity of the content of the document. The FCO will then attach an apostille to the certificate of authentication which consuls can then legalise.
Although the FCO takes no responsibility for the content of the document, it reserves the right to reject a certification if it feels insufficient checks were made in the authentication process or if the underlying content of the document may damage the reputation of the FCO.
In particular, the FCO may make additional enquiries regarding education certificates. This is because of the proliferation of “diploma mills” awarding bogus diplomas and degrees.
Hamilton also noted that legalisation officers at consulates are entitled to make their own enquiries about the authenticity of a certificate, even if it has an FCO apostille attached.
For education certificates, they may consult the Register of Regulated Qualifications (http://register.ofqual.gov.uk/) which is operated by Ofqual and contains a register of Recognised Awarding Organisations.
Consuls urged the FCO to raise awareness among education institutions and notary services about the need to perform adequate checks to certify education certificates so that consuls legalising these documents could be confident of their authenticity.
It was suggested that the Education Ministry be responsible for the legalisation of education certificates.
As a rule the FCO will not legalise a foreign document because the FCO cannot retain a database of public officials in other countries. Documents such as marriage or birth certificates originating in another country should be legalised by authorities in that country, said Hamilton.
However, if a document is drawn up overseas but is executed by a public official in the UK, the FCO can legalise it.
Documents in foreign languages present difficulties, cautioned Hamilton, because although the FCO takes no responsibility for the underlying content, it may harm the reputation of the organisation. Therefore certified translations of documents may be required.
Legalisation Office Customer advice line 03700 002244
(lines are open between 12.00-16.00 Monday to Friday)
Andrew Hamilton heads the FCO’s Legalisation Office