Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC, at the Second Reading of the Apostille Bill (Bill No. 35/2020)
Sir, like Mr Murali, I am extremely excited about this bill as well. Sir, if this Bill is passed, Singapore will join 118 countries as a party to the Apostille Convention.
This Bill gives effect to our obligations under the Convention. This will streamline our processes for recognising foreign public documents and make it easier for our public documents to be recognised in other contracting states.
With the apostille process in place, individuals will not have to go to two sets of government authorities to legalise foreign public documents.
This will significantly cut down on bureaucratic processes, which, I think we can all agree, is a good thing.
I just have four points of clarification to make.
Disproving certified foreign public document
My first point is on the criteria for disproving certified documents.
Section 11 of the Bill provides that the origin of a foreign public document certified with an apostille will be presumed to be “sufficiently proven” unless “the contrary is proven”.
The origin of a foreign public document, as Minister mentioned, is defined in Section 7 as comprising three elements: the authenticity of signature, the capacity of the person signing, and the identity of the seal or stamp.
Can Minister clarify whether problems with just one element of the origin, such as the authenticity of the signature, is enough to cause the origins of the document to be insufficiently proven?
Scope of verification by Competent Authority
My second point is on the scope of verification that will be done by the Singapore Academy of Law (SAL) before issuing an apostille.
Generally, the SAL is only supposed to authenticate the origin of the public document and not whether the document is valid.
However, defects in the document’s validity may mean the document does not qualify as a public document.
Can Minister share whether the SAL will verify that the document complies with content and format requirements to qualify as a public document?
Measures to address apostille fraud
My third point is on apostille fraud which is a problem within the international apostille system.
One example of apostille fraud is using an apostille to legitimise a fake document. This may be done for instance to legitimise a fake academic certificate issued by a degree mill.
There are existing offences for forging documents or providing false information to a public servant which potentially may cover instances of apostille fraud.
However, apostille fraud is arguably even more serious given that it undermines the integrity of Singapore’s systems on the international stage.
While the Apostilles Convention itself does not provide for any penalties, the Apostilles Handbook makes clear that sanctions may be provided for by domestic law.
Can Minister share the rationale for deciding not to introduce specific offences for apostille fraud under the Bill?
Adoption of the electronic Apostille Programme
Finally, can Minister share whether Singapore will be adopting both the e-Apostilles and e-Registers system.
An e-Apostille is an apostille that is issued in electronic format with an electronic signature.
An e-Register on the other hand is a register of apostilles that is kept in electronic form and which is accessible online by the recipient of the Apostille.
COVID-19 has restricted cross-border mobility but individuals still have to get their foreign public documents authenticated.
The e-Apostille and e-Register system have provided a convenient way to get around this problem for many other countries, such as Brazil, Bulgaria, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and the U.S.
However, adoption of these systems could also mean there are more opportunities for bad faith actors to interfere.
If we are adopting both or either systems, can Minister share what steps will be taken to protect the integrity of the e-Apostilles or e-Registers given that the documents may contain extremely sensitive information?
Sir, notwithstanding these points, I stand in support of the Bill.
Watch the speech here