The issuance of digital documents is becoming increasingly prevalent in the continually evolving information age of today. At present, the apostille is a certificate attached to a physical document which raises the question of how to legalise a document that exists in an electronic format only.
The registrar of companies in the UK, Companies House, is one of the pioneering organisations with regards to digital documents. The vast majority of company documents are filed electronically and do not necessarily exist in an original physical format.
The filing history of a UK company is freely accessible on the Companies House electronic register. When legalising documents of this nature it is simply a case of certifying a print out of the electronic document. The certified print out can then be issued with the apostille accordingly.
Historically, court documents would be stamped by the court with an ink seal and/or signed by a judge. The Apostille certificate was then issued to verify this seal and/or signature on the document.
This is still the case with a lot of court documents, however, many court documents are now issued with a digital court seal only. When this is the case the court document should be countersigned by a UK solicitor or notary public to be eligible for the apostille.
As with Companies House, HM Revenue & Customers are gradually transitioning to a digital document based standard. We regularly hear from clients who have been issued with a document from HMRC that has a digital signature rather than an ink signature. When this is the case, the document should be countersigned by a UK solicitor or notary public for the purpose of being issued with the apostille.
Future of the apostille
Over time it would be realistic to assume most documents will switch to a digital format. There have also been discussions amongst members of the Hague Convention in relation to issuing electronic Apostille certificates. Whether or not this will become the de facto method of issuing the apostille remains to be seen and there is certainly an argument that certain documents would be more secure when issued in a physical form.