Lawyer's Language: What on earth is an Apostille?

Lawyer Caroline Walsh answers your questions about coping with the Israeli legal system.

Justice gavel court law book judge 311 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Justice gavel court law book judge 311
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Since much of the Christian world is currently celebrating Christmas, it seems appropriate to discuss the mysterious world of the Apostille. If you have ever come across this term, you may well have imagined that it refers to a papal decree or religious sacrament, probably written on parchment and certainly ancient and revered. However, the mundane truth of the matter is that an Apostille, as you are likely to encounter it in the modern world, is simply a humble certification stamp.
If you have ever tried to prove in one country that you were married, divorced or qualified in another, or if you have been asked to sign a document in one jurisdiction to be used in another, you were probably told that you needed an "Apostille". So what is it?
In today's world of multi-national families, where we live our lives across many countries, we often need to provide documents in one country which originate in another. An Apostille is simply the modern method used to confirm that such documents are authentic. The Apostille is a stamp, attached to a document, which allows the officials of one country to see that the document produced to them is an official document from the other country.
The Apostille system is valid for all countries which are signatories to the Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalization for Foreign Public Documents, dated October 5, 1961. These countries include all members of the European Union, the USA, Australia, South Africa and Israel. Any document from one of these countries can be "Apostilled" and it will then be accepted as a valid document in any other signatory country.
Each country has its own procedure for obtaining an Apostille certification. A local notary, or the consulate of the country where you are taking the document, should be able to advise how the system works and the easiest way to get your documents certified.
Q: I live in the North of England, and am buying an apartment in Tel Aviv. I have been told that certain documents which I need to sign must be taken to the Israeli consulate in London to be executed but I rarely go to London. Do I have another option?
A: Since both Britain and Israel are signatories to The Hague Convention, an alternative to signing the documents at the Israeli consulate is to have your signatures witnessed by a local notary who will then arrange to have the documents certified by Apostille. Israeli consulates around the world are authorized to provide notarial services and this is the reason that you have been referred to the consulate in London. However, if you do not live near an Israeli consulate, then the Apostille certification process provides you with a more convenient option. After you sign the documents in front of a public notary, the notary can arrange to have the Apostille certification affixed and these can then be used to purchase and register your apartment here in Tel Aviv.
This article is presented for your general information and does not constitute legal advice. You should obtain specific legal advice about your estate before taking (or deciding not to take) any action. Please contact Caroline for further information.© SaftWalsh 2011. All rights reserved.