[Author’s note: I am a huge fan of the Harry Potter universe, and I fell in love with J.K. Rowling long ago; Peggy understands my affection, and would happily trade me for a sneak peak at Jo’s next manuscript. The new “prequel” really is fantastic. Go see the movie, buy the script… immerse yourself in this new story line. Or as of summer 2022… see the latest in the magizoologist’s story.]
Newt Scamander had a problem when he showed up in New York. The beasts squirreled away in his suitcase weren’t legal in the U.S. (under either No-Maj law or Wizarding law). Even if he had acquired the proper permits before leaving the United Kingdom, those permits wouldn’t have been valid in the U.S. either. Given that it was 1926, validating the permits would have been a monumental challenge. Back then, the “legalization” process was lengthy, arduous, and a flat-out pain in the neck.
Fortunately, it’s a whole lot simpler today thanks to the Convention of 5 October 1961 Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents, more commonly known as the Hague Apostille Convention (there will be a quiz later).
Simply put, an Apostille is a certificate that gives a public document legal effect in other countries (those that are members of the treaty, anyway). It is attached to a document by a designated government agency, and essentially points to the signature of an official (including a notary public) and says “yep, that’s a valid signature.” An Apostille has no bearing whatsoever to the veracity of the document’s contents; it merely authenticates the signature of the person signing the document. Think of it like a notarization of a notarization. The old way of doing things had a half-dozen steps or more; with the Apostille procedure, just one or two steps legalize the document.
Even private documents like contracts, wills, conveyances, etc. can carry an Apostille if they are notarized. The “public” aspect of such an Apostillable (yes, I made up that word) document is the notary signature alone. A private document can’t magically become public, even in the wondrous imagination of J.K. Rowling, but the validation of a Missouri notary’s signature by the Missouri Secretary of State gives it legal effect in the other countries that have joined the treaty… pretty handy stuff.
A routine example: defense counsel in Missouri needs a plaintiff’s medical records from England. Generally speaking, a garden-variety medical records release will suffice if the plaintiff’s signature has been notarized. Unfortunately, the Missouri notary’s signature carries no weight in England. [Or France, for that matter. Or Hungary. Remember Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, Durmstrang… the Tri-Wizard League! All are in Apostille countries.]
But Jason Kander, Missouri’s Secretary of State,* spent a semester abroad at Hogwarts when he was a kid, so he can conjure an Apostille Charm, which makes the notarization magically effective abroad.
Here in the U.S., Apostilles are most often provided by the Secretary of State in each state**, while in the United Kingdom, it’s a one-stop shop at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. Being a No-Maj (Muggle), I don’t have access to the proper website to determine who the magical authorities are in either country. Attorney witches and wizards are invited to violate the Statute of Secrecy and tell us in the comment section below (I hear Azkaban is much more tolerable now that they’ve kicked out the Dementors).
* Jason has been a hell of a Secretary, and I can’t wait to vote for him again. Frankly, his wife, Diana, is the bigger star (and he’d agree). Watch her Ted Talk. Read her book. [Update: this was originally published before Jason’s term ended. The new Secretary is Jay Ashcroft.]
** U.S. issuing authorities vary depending on the nature of the document to be authenticated.