By Selwyn Chan
Since the Covid-19 outbreak, one practice that has remained relatively stable is our notarial services.
This can be easily explained as a lot of flights have now been cancelled and people are now unable (or unwilling) to travel overseas whether for business or for their private affairs, yet because of certain contractual or legal duties that they have to fulfil, they need to get legal documents signed or submitted be it affirmations for ongoing court cases, contracts for sale and purchase of assets, documents in support of emigration applications or even updated company documents to comply with their filing duties with relevant foreign authorities.
Whilst there are some online notaries who conduct notarization by video conference, this is not a universally accepted method (certainly not in Hong Kong) largely because the notary is unable to satisfactorily verify the identity of the person as he will not be able to meet the client physically and to check that the identification document he/she holds and produces is likely to be genuine or not. Another issue is the notary cannot actually confirm the document he saw signed in a video is the one he eventually receives and notarizes. At best, he can just compare and believe it is likely to be the same document. As such, this method is not ideal and definitely not encouraged.
What is notarization?
In short, notarization is the process where a Notary Public prepares or authenticates certain legal documents by signing his signature and affixing his notarial seal on them. Such documents are intended to be used overseas (save for Mainland China where similar processes are conducted by a China Appointed Attesting Officer). A Notary Public in Hong Kong needs to first qualify as a Hong Kong Solicitor before he/she can take the notarial exam and be appointed by the High Court. At the moment, Hong Kong has around 400 qualified Notary Public out of more than 10,000 qualified solicitors in Hong Kong.
What is Legalization?
Whilst some countries seem to accept notarized documents as valid (mostly the Commonwealth countries) without being legalized, the general rule is that the signature and seal of a Notary Public should be authenticated. This process takes place at that country’s consulate in Hong Kong to ensure that the Notary Public is a qualified person to do the job. We normally need to be first registered at the consulate before we can assist the client with the legalization process. Depending on the consulate, the process can sometimes be complicated and tedious.
What is Apostille?
You may have come across this term before in your business dealings or personal affairs and scratched your head in puzzle. This is actually a simplified version of legalization where the documents are authenticated by apostilles issued by the High Court of Hong Kong. The documents that require authentication by apostille are normally used for signatory states or territories to The Hague Apostille Convention although a lot of non-signatory states and territories also require documents to be apostilled prior to legalization. The purpose of the Convention was to streamline the process of legalization.
Disclaimer: This article is for reference only. Nothing herein shall be construed as legal advice. Oldham Li & Nie shall not be held liable for any loss and/or damage incurred by any person acting as a result of the materials contained in this article.