2.1 The authentication process
The process known as 'authentication' (or 'legalisation') is often required to be performed on Australian documents intended for use in an overseas jurisdiction. Authentication involves the production of a chain of verificatory signatures and seals which prove the authenticity of an earlier seal or signature appearing on a document. The authentication process does not verify the truth or contents of the document.
2.2 The Department's role
The Department provides only one link in an authentication process (or 'chain of authentication'). The legal requirements of a particular chain of authentication (including which authority verifies the Department's authentication) are dictated by the overseas jurisdiction within which the document is to be used. The requirements may also vary according to the type of document being authenticated. The Department's role is limited only to the authentication of a signature appearing on a document.
The Department's website contains comprehensive information for clients requiring authentications. Clients who have additional questions about the authentication process should be referred to the Consulate or Embassy of the country in which the document is to be used.
The Department is unable to provide legal advice to members of the public. Clients unsure of the legal requirements regarding a particular document should be advised to seek private legal advice. Overseas posts may provide the client with the post's list of local lawyers.
Authentications may be performed in Australia by authorised officers acting on behalf of the Secretary, and overseas by Australian diplomatic and consular officers and by authorised LES.
2.3 Authenticating a signature
An individual authentication is a statement verifying the authenticity of a signature (stamp or seal) already appearing on a document. While best practice would be to ensure documents have both a signature and a stamp or seal, a number of bodies no longer have the capacity to produce both a signature and a stamp or seal. In these cases, you may accept either an original signature or a stamp or a seal. Officers may only authenticate a signature (or stamp or seal) where they are satisfied:
- the signature and/or (stamp/seal) is original, having been issued by the organisation/institution concerned; and
- the signature and/or (stamp/seal) appearing on the document is that of the person/organisation of which it purports to be.
Officers may authenticate a computer-generated signature or stamp where they are satisfied it is:
- original; and
- the properly sanctioned mark of the relevant authority or person.
A signature (stamp/seal) may only be authenticated following a direct comparison with an original signature held by the Department or a copy of the signature held on the Signatures and Seals Database. See 2.12 for the wording and appearance of an authentication.
2.4 Which signatures can be authenticated?
For administrative and fraud minimisation purposes, the range of signatures authenticated by the Department is limited. Detailed information on categories of signatures/documents that can be notarised is at Attachment B. In principle, signatures (stamps/seals) from the following authorities may be authenticated:
- Notaries Public
- Justices of the Peace (JP) but only if the JP practices:
- in Western Australia (WA Justices of the Peace are regulated differently to those in the other states and territories); or
- in a court (Justices of the Peace working in a court house do not need to place the stamp/seal of the court on the document because the document is not always a document issued by the court.)
- Clerk/Registrar of the Court
- Government agencies (including the police, registrars of births, deaths and marriages, etc) – see Attachment B
- Foreign officials and consular officers with diplomatic appointment in Australia – see Attachment B
- Australian diplomatic or consular staff overseas as long as those signatures are no older than two years
- certain chambers of commerce and industry - see Attachment B
- certain medical/health practitioners – see Attachment B
2.5 Where there is no record of the signature
Where a signature to be authenticated does not appear on the Signature and Seals Database, officers should:
- confirm that the signature is of the type that may be authenticated; and
- contact the person who signed the document directly by phone and request that they fax and mail you a specimen of their signature, seal and stamp (where applicable); their full name and contact details; and confirmation of the capacity in which they notarise documents. (A form which can be used to request specimen signatures is provided at Attachment G).
Once obtained, the signature (stamp or seal) may be used for authentication purposes and should be scanned into the Signatures and Seals Database for future reference. State and Territory officers are responsible for updating the database with new signatures from their respective State or Territory. The original specimen should be stored on an appropriate file.
Specimen signature forms should not be provided to clients to obtain signatures that are not contained on the database.
2.6 Multiple Signatures
It is best practice that each signature for which you have been requested to issue an authentication should be authenticated separately, i.e. one signature per authentication. The consular fee for an authentication should be charged for each signature authenticated.
There are, however, cases where it is in our interests to provide one authentication for several different signatures. For example, inter-country adoption papers often involve several individual signatures and may therefore be time-consuming to issue several authentications and be a high cost to individual clients. In offering this service, you may charge only one authentication fee and a binding fee. You must, however, notify clients seeking this kind of authentication that they should first check with the Embassy/Consulate of the country concerned because many do not accept authentication of multiple signatures. You should also point out to clients that documents authenticated in this fashion cannot be separated or then used independent of the other documents. They would therefore need another authentication process if one of those documents is required to be used independent of the other. This service cannot be provided for Apostilles given the limitations laid down in the Convention on the size and placement of Apostilles.
At the moment, any authentication prepared in this fashion will need to be done manually as the signature and seals enhancement to provide for authenticating multiple signatures is not yet operational. You will, however, need to enter data on each of these authentications in the signature and seals to ensure the statistics for these acts are maintained.
2.7 Multiple-page Documents
Not all multi-page documents need to be bound. There are some time-saving advantages in doing so, however, and binding can reduce the cost to the public. A document can only be bound if the signature(s) of the person (s) whose signature(s) are/ is being authenticated appears on each page of the document. There are occasions when an overseas authority will request that a document be bound. Guidance on the correct method to bind documents is at Attachment E.
2.8 Foreign Language or Translations of Documents
Appropriate signatures on foreign language documents or translations may be authenticated. You do not need a translation of the document to authenticate it.
2.9 Documents Containing Alterations
Consular officers should identify whether there are alterations or interlineations on any part of a document being authenticated. Alterations to officially issued certificates, e.g. births, deaths and marriages, police clearances, divorce papers, educational degrees and documentation must be initialled by the issuing authority and bear the issuing authority's stamp. Alterations to other documents must be initialled by both the author and original witness of the document.
To prevent further additions after a document has been attested, clients should be asked to ensure the author and original witness of the document have struck out any large vacant areas appearing on the document.
2.10 Overseas authentications
Consular officers overseas who are asked to authenticate a document are able to check the Signature and Seals database. If the relevant signature is not on the database, posts should ask Canberra (CMS/CNB) or the relevant DFAT state office to obtain the signature and enter it in the database.
The diplomatic bag should not be used where a document must be returned to Australia to the State or Territory Office for authentication. In such circumstances, the client is responsible for arranging for the document to be returned to Australia.
Under the Consular Fees Act, the fee for authentication of a document is currently AUD20 for each authentication plus an additional AUD20 if the document requires binding.
2.12 Wording and appearance of DFAT authentications
The wording of an authentication is as follows:
I , an officer of the Australian Embassy/Consulate/State Office/Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (delete as appropriate), having been duly authorised by the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, DO HEREBY CERTIFY that the signature/seal/stamp
appearing on the document/s above/below/attached hereto/on the reverse hereto is the true signature/seal/stamp of
In so certifying, neither I nor the Embassy/Consulate/State Office/Department endorse, verify or make any statement as to the accuracy, JUNE 2005
truth, legality or otherwise of the contents of the document or the purposes for which the document may be used. Neither I nor the Embassy/Consulate/State Office/ Department accept liability for any loss, damage or injury arising out of the use of, or reliance on, the document or its contents. I provide no undertaking that I have read the contents of the document.
GIVEN under my Hand and the seal of the Embassy/Consulate/State Office/Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade this ………………….. day of ……………………………………. Two thousand………….
(for overseas missions) (Signed)
(Stamp with wet seal)
(for DFAT offices in Australia) (Signed)
red wafer seal for the Secretary
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
(Stamp with wet seal)
The authentication may take the form of a (black) stamp or computer-generated statement. The signature of the officer signing the authentication should appear on the right and be covered by a black Departmental wet seal. A red wafer seal with the crest impressed over the wafer should be affixed to the left side. See attachment C.
If the stamp or computer-generated statement is affixed to a separate sheet, that sheet should bear a black Commonwealth crest in the centre top of the page. The document should be bound with dark green ribbon and the ends of the tape covered by a red notarial wafer with the seal impressed over the wafer (to the extent possible given the thickness of the ribbon).