by Apostille Service


by Apostille Service


signing documents for the apostille

In the UK, the legalisation of documents for international use often involves two legal professionals: solicitors and notary publics. Both can certify documents for use abroad under the apostille process as per the Hague Convention of 1961. However, their roles and the nature of their certifications have important distinctions, especially in how they interact with the signatories of the documents. This article delves into these differences, with a particular focus on the role of notaries in witnessing document signings.

What is an Apostille?

The apostille is a certificate that is attached to documents that verifies them for international use. The apostille is normally requested by countries that are members of the Hague Convention. This certification confirms the legitimacy of the document’s signatures/stamps and the authority of the official who has issued or certified the document.

The Role of Solicitors in Document Certification

In the UK, solicitors are qualified legal professionals who provide advice, represent clients in legal matters, and prepare legal documents. When it comes to document legalisation, solicitors can certify documents for many reasons, but often as true originals or true copies. This certification is recognised within the UK and, for international use. When a document is being used outside of the UK it may also need the apostille. Solicitors can witness the signing of documents but, for international use, you may need a notary to witness a document.

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person signing a document for apostille

The Role of Notary Publics

Unlike solicitors, notary publics in the UK have a specific function in the authentication of documents for international use. A key aspect of a notary’s role is to witness individuals signing documents. They meet with the person whose signature is to be certified. They will verify their identity, and watch them sign the document. After witnessing the signature, notaries then notarise the document – this involves certifying that they have seen the document being signed and adding their signature as ‘witness’. This needs to be done ‘in person’ at a notary’s office. It cannot be done remotely. Notaries in England and Wales also use a notary stamp, that is known to the UK Legalisation Office.

Key Differences in Roles

  • Witnessing Signatures: The primary distinction between notaries and solicitors, in the context of document legalisation, is that an overseas authority may only accept that notaries witness signatures personally. This is crucial for international legal processes, including where an apostille is required.
  • Certification for International Use: Both solicitors and notaries can certify documents, originals or copies, as true and correct. However, notaries’ certifications come with the added authority of having personally witnessed the signing, which is often a prerequisite for documents used abroad that need an apostille.
  • Recognition and Authority: While both types of certifications can be apostilled, the personal witnessing by notaries generally provides a higher level of assurance for international authorities. This makes notarised documents more readily accepted across borders.


For UK citizens and residents needing to legalise documents for international use, understanding when to use the services of a solicitor versus a notary is key. If a document simply needs to be certified as an original or a true copy, a solicitor’s signature can suffice. However, if the process requires the verification of the signer’s identity and witnessing of their signature, a notary public is recommended. This distinction is especially important when documents must be accompanied by an apostille, ensuring they meet international legal standards. Knowing these differences helps ensure that documents are properly prepared and accepted in their destination countries.

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