Second Reading Speech by Second Minister for Law, Mr Edwin Tong, on the Apostille Bill
02 Nov 2020 Posted in Parliamentary speeches and responses
Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, I beg to move, “That the Bill be now read a Second time”.
- Sir, this Bill gives effect to the obligations under the Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents, also known as the Apostille Convention.
- Sir, in my speech, I will:
a. explain why Singapore intends to accede to the Apostille Convention; and
b. set out the key features of the Bill to this House.
II. Why Singapore intends to accede to the Apostille Convention
- Singapore’s continued success depends very much on our ability to remain a vibrant international business and commercial hub.
a. In a world that is at risk of turning inward, we have doubled down on our commitment to remain open and connected to the world.
b. We welcome the best companies from around the world, to be sited in Singapore, bring their base in to Singapore, and do business in, from, or out of Singapore.
c. We also encourage and support our own companies to pursue regional or even global ambitions.
d. And this can only work by ensuring that the business environment is facilitative of cross-border transactions and activities.
e. The COVID-19 pandemic has not changed our approach, but has made it even more imperative that we remain open and connected.
- Acceding to the Apostille Convention is a step in pursuit of this commitment. It signals in concrete terms to the international community that Singapore remains open for business.
- Let me briefly explain what the Convention does.
a. Sir, cross-border transactions and activities often involve the use of public documents issued by public authorities from one State, to support transactions taking place in another State.
i. For example, a person seeking to relocate or study abroad may need to produce identification documents, academic transcripts, proof of residency, proof of employment or income, and other supporting documents.
ii. Businesses seeking to acquire properties overseas may need to produce incorporation documents and official business profiles.
b. Many States require that foreign public documents be “legalised” before they are recognised and accepted in those States.
c. Whilst differences exist amongst States, the process of “legalisation” typically involves the authentication of the signature, the seal or the stamp on a local public document by a series of different public officials along a “chain”, where the ultimate authentication is recognised by the State of destination. This is often cumbersome and costly, and not to mention, time-consuming as well.
d. The Apostille Convention replaces the process of “legalisation” with a one-step process involving a single certificate issued by the State’s designated Competent Authority. This certificate is known as the Apostille.
- The Bill gives effect to the obligations under the Apostille Convention domestically, so that Singapore can become a Contracting Party.
a. We will be in good company: there are 118 Contracting Parties to the Apostille Convention, including some of Singapore’s major trading partners such as the USA, the UK, India, and the EU Member States.
b. Acceding to the Apostille Convention bolsters Singapore’s reputation as a bustling and interconnected hub, and will serve as a statement of Singapore’s intent to remain committed as a global player in facilitating international movements, transactions and activities.
- When Singapore becomes a Contracting Party to the Apostille Convention in 2021, other Contracting Parties will be 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.
a. This will save cost and time for persons who seek to use Singapore-issued public documents in other Contracting Parties.
b. Likewise, Singapore’s authorities will be obliged to accept apostilles in place of legalisation for incoming foreign public documents from other Contracting States, where applicable.
- Sir, I will now take the House through the key features of the Bill.
III. Key features of the Bill
- The purposes of the Bill are fairly straightforward and are three-fold.
- First, the Bill provides for apostilles to be issued for Singapore public documents by Singapore’s Competent Authority. In this case, The Singapore Academy of Law (“SAL”) will be designated as Singapore’s Competent Authority under the Convention, and will be authorised to issue apostille certificates on Singapore public documents as defined in Clause 14 of the Bill.
a. Presently, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (“MFA”) performs the legalisation function in respect of outgoing documents issued out of Singapore.
b. This function is needed for outgoing public documents intended for use in Contracting Parties with legalisation requirements, until Singapore becomes a Party to the Convention.
c. This function will continue to be needed for outgoing public documents intended for use in non-Contracting Parties with legalisation requirements.
d. The legalisation and apostillisation functions will then thereafter be centralised in one agency – and this is of course more user-friendly and also efficient.
e. Clause 21(2) of the Bill therefore transfers the legalisation function from MFA to SAL.
- The transfer of the legalisation function from MFA to SAL ties in with SAL’s current authentication services, making it more convenient for the legal industry and the public. SAL is expected to take over the legalisation function from MFA by January 2021.
- Second, Clause 9 of the Bill expressly exempts public documents executed in other Contracting Parties from any requirement of legalisation.
a. Our written laws do not currently require incoming foreign public documents to be legalised, before they are recognised and accepted in Singapore. As an administrative practice, however, some agencies would require that foreign documents be so legalised.
b. Under the Bill, government agencies may no longer require such foreign documents to be legalised if the documents come from a Contracting Party to the Convention.
c. In its place, these government agencies may require the apostilles.
- Third, the Bill provides for the effect of apostilles issued by other Contracting Parties and facilitates, but does not require, their use.
a. Clause 11 of the Bill provides that the origin of a foreign public document affixed with an apostille is presumed to be sufficiently proven (unless the contrary is established). This means that the apostille is presumed proof of:
i. the authenticity of the signature on the document,
ii. the capacity in which the person signing the document has acted , and
iii. where appropriate, the identity of the seal or stamp that the document bears.
The apostille does not, however, certify the contents of the underlying public document. Neither is this the position for legalisation today.
b. The Bill also provides for the effect of apostilles, so as to facilitate their use. The Bill does not require apostilles to be used, unless as a replacement for the formality of legalisation which certain government agencies may have imposed.
i. This means that for foreign public documents which government agencies do not require to be legalised, apostilles may not subsequently be required.
ii. The rationale behind this is to ensure that agencies do not take a regressive step by requiring the formality of an apostille, when previously there had been no other formality requirements needed.
iii. However, apostilles may be required for new classes of foreign public documents created after Singapore’s accession to the Convention.
c. The Bill also contains a related amendment to the Evidence Act (Cap. 97, 2007 Rev Ed).
i. While the Evidence Act is not contrary to the obligations under the Apostille Convention, this amendment will allow for foreign public documents from Contracting Parties to also be proved by an apostille being affixed on such documents.
ii. The proposed amendment clarifies that the operation of Part 2 of the Bill is not affected by the sections of the Evidence Act which relate to the way in which public documents are proven.
- Sir, in conclusion, this Bill will facilitate cross-border use of public documents by:
a. abolishing the requirement of legalisation for public documents from fellow Contracting Parties; and
b. secondly, replacing legalisation with the use of a one-step process involving the use of apostilles that will be internationally accepted and recognised.
- These measures will:
a. streamline and modernise the process for authentication of public documents for recognition across different jurisdictions; and
b. no doubt, as I said earlier, save time and expense for parties.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, I beg to move.
Last updated on 02 Nov 2020