Thursday 26 November, 2020

Senate passes Authentication (Foreign Public Documents) Bill

Senator Kamina Johnson Smith

Senator Kamina Johnson Smith

The Senate on Friday passed the Authentication (Foreign Public Documents) Bill 2020, a week after its passage in the House of Representatives.

This means the process of authenticating local public documents intended for use overseas, and foreign documents to be used in Jamaica, will soon become simpler, more efficient and less time consuming.

It will also facilitate a more simplified process by only requiring an approved authentication certificate - an Apostille Certificate, which is issued by an authority designated by the state in which a public document originates - as proof of legalisation of public documents.

Leader of Government Business in the Senate, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, who piloted the Bill, explained that it will facilitate the implementation of the Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement for Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents, which will have a far reaching impact especially regarding the ease of doing business.

The Bill provides the legislative framework for the accession and implementation of this Convention, which is also called the Apostille Convention.

“So we get a sense of the breadth of positive impact the passage of this Bill and Jamaica’s accession to the Convention will have, in terms of people who are seeking to do ordinary business – whether to have their children go to school, whether to explore an opportunity overseas, or for our Diaspora to do business here or for other non-nationals to do business here. It is about global connectivity and effectiveness,” said Johnson Smith.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade explained further that, generally, a public document that is intended for use in a foreign country requires verification by a state authority in the country of origin.

“The requirement comes from the fact that the recipient in the foreign country would not be able to verify the official capacity of the persons signing it or the authenticity of the signature or the stamp or the seal which it bears,” she said.

Johnson Smith noted that this need for verification has given rise to a process of legalisation, which is ordinarily facilitated through foreign affairs ministries, high commissions, embassies and consulates globally.

“Currently, for documents issued in Jamaica, my Ministry is responsible for carrying out the process of authentication, after which the diplomatic mission of the receiving country accredited to Jamaica, legalises the document,” she explained.

Johnson Smith further pointed out that, in some instances, several intermediary steps are required, “and it can be quite a treacherous path… for individuals and even companies to navigate”.

“It’s not good for business, because sometimes the process is not only time-consuming, it’s cumbersome, it’s inefficient, it can be quite frustrating, and the situation becomes even more stressful when documents are intended for use in multiple jurisdictions,” she said, adding that costs can also increase significantly during this lengthy process.

Johnson Smith said the Government is aware that the traditional process of legalisation has been and continues to be an impediment to the efficient conduct of business in Jamaica, and is committed to making Jamaica a place where both nationals and non-nationals can do so conveniently.

“We want to eliminate the unnecessarily lengthy processes that impede business efficiency. We recognise that Jamaicans continue to expand their reach globally and we are, therefore, committed to taking the necessary steps to facilitate them, particularly our Diaspora, Jamaican nationals and companies accessing legitimate opportunities internationally. Given the almost universal nature of the Apostille Convention, it significantly will support the ease of doing business across international borders, and will reduce…costs of such services,” she pointed out.

Common documents that can be authenticated under the Bill include: birth, marriage, death and educational certificates; medical documents certified by the Ministry of Health and Wellness; declarations, shipping documents; statements and similar documents signed before a Justice of the Peace or Notary Public; and company documents.

The Convention applies to public documents issued by a Ministry, Department or Agency of Government as well as from judicial authorities such as courts and tribunals, and it will also apply to commercial documents.

Johnson Smith noted that the Apostille Convention enjoys the widest participation globally, with 118 countries from all major regions, representing all key legal systems of the world, being party.

The Bill, which was passed with 12 amendments, will now go to the Governor-General, Sir Patrick Allen for his signature, after which it will become law.

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