29 October 2020

On 5 October 2020, the Apostille Bill (“Bill”) was tabled for first reading in Parliament. The Ministry of Law issued a press release on the same day explaining the rationale for the Bill.

The Bill when passed will allow for Singapore’s obligations under the Hague Convention of 5 October 1961 Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents (“Apostille Convention”) to take domestic effect. It will also transfer the legalisation function from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (“MFA”) to the Singapore Academy of Law (“SAL”). These reforms will streamline and modernise the process for authentication of public documents for recognition across jurisdictions and save time and lower costs for users.

Apostille Convention

The Apostille Convention facilitates the use of public documents abroad through a simplified one-step process. By way of background, many states require foreign public documents to be “legalised” through a multi-stage process before such documents are recognised and accepted.

The Apostille Convention abolishes the requirement of legalisation. Instead, each contracting party to the Apostille Convention designates a “competent authority”, responsible for issuing certificates that certify the origin of official documents produced by the contracting party (“apostilles”). All contracting parties are obliged to accept apostilles as being sufficient to verify the origin of the underlying document. The “one-step process” of issuing an apostille replaces the more cumbersome and costly formalities related to the legalisation process.

When Singapore becomes a contracting party to the Apostille Convention in 2021, all other contracting parties are obliged to waive the legalisation requirement for public documents issued by Singapore authorities, and must accept the apostilles issued by Singapore’s designated competent authority.

These reforms will save cost and time for persons who seek to use Singapore-issued public documents in other contracting parties. Such public documents may include marriage certificates, educational certificates, birth and death certificates, identity cards and passports, etc. Likewise, Singapore authorities will be obliged to accept apostilles in place of legalisation for incoming foreign public documents from contracting parties, where applicable.

Apostillisation and legalisation functions to be centralised

SAL will be designated as Singapore’s competent authority under the Apostille Convention and will be responsible for issuing apostilles to certify the origin of public documents issued by Singapore authorities. Bearers of Singapore-issued public documents who require apostilles to be affixed to their documents can approach SAL when the Apostille Convention enters into force for Singapore.

Additionally, for users’ convenience, the legalisation function of outgoing public documents issued in Singapore and intended for use in states with legalisation requirements will be transferred from MFA to SAL by January 2021. The transfer of this function to SAL ties in with SAL’s current authentication services, making it more convenient for the legal industry and the public.