A working group is meeting next month in the Hague to consider the authentication of documents issued by intergovernmental or supranational organizations. One of the preliminary documents published by the Hague Conference in advance of the meeting provides several methods by which such documents can be authenticated:

  1. By a notary. In this approach, an apostille can authenticate the notarial certificate, though not the underlying document directly. Question: how would this work for a US notary? I’m just thinking about a Massachusetts notary, though I suspect our law is similar enough to the law in other states. The most common notarial act that could fit the bill is taking an acknowledgment: the signer of a document acknowledges to the notary, either at or after the time of the signature, that he signed the document as his free act and deed. A notary can also witness a signature, which requires the notary to be present at the time the document is signed. Both of these are conceivable methods of authenticating a document from an intergovernmental organization, but they don’t seem very practical. What’s wanted is a method of authenticating the signatures or seals on such a document without requiring that the signer appear before a notary or that the notary be present when the document is signed. A slightly different approach: the host government designates an official other than a notary to authenticate the documents, and then that official’s signature is legalized by apostille.
  2. Treat the document as a public document of the host state. Under this method, the United States, for example, could designate a competent authority to issue apostilles to authenticate UN documents; Brussels could designate a competent authority to issue apostilles to authenticate NATO documents; and so forth. This method would solve the practical issue, but it might require some amendment to the agreement between the organization and the host country to make it clear that the organization’s documents would be treated as public documents of the host country. A slightly different approach would let the host country designate an office within the intergovernmental organization as a competent authority.
  3. The Apostille Convention could be supplemented by a protocol to deal with the issue. Presumably this would allow the intergovernmental organization to designate its own authority which then would issue its own apostilles.
  4. Nothing changes. The status quo, apparently, is for documents issued by intergovernmental organizations to be authenticated by traditional legalization (with the intergovernmental organization arranging for relevant embassies or consulates to have the information they need to legalize its seals) or via a notary.

My comments above probably suggest I am a little skeptical about whether a notary-centered solution makes sense in the US context at least. I will keep you posted as information becomes available about what conclusions the working group meets.