Panama: The Apostille of Documents: Simplifying Judicial Procedures

Published on Jan 24, 2024

In the context of judicial procedures in Panama, the apostille of documents emerges as an essential instrument to expedite or facilitate the international recognition of legal documents. Before starting to examine the apostille of documents in Panama, it is necessary to detail, what is an apostille? It is an official certification, governed by the 1961 Hague Convention, which validates the signature of a public official in the exercise of his functions, affixed to a public document, issued in a foreign country to be used by another, where both are state parties to the Hague Convention. This certification offers an efficient solution to legal processes, simplifying the presentation of foreign documents in judicial or other proceedings.

The fundamental purpose of the apostille is to authenticate the signature and seal of public documents issued in a country, allowing their automatic acceptance in other signatory countries of the Convention. It should be noted at this point that, once the document has been apostilled, it is only valid for the country where it was stated that it will be used and not for all the signatories of the Hague Convention, so, if the interested party had to carry out procedures In another country, you will not be able to use the same document. This simplified approach is of particular importance in judicial proceedings, where the presentation of accurate and authenticated documents is crucial, not only to support legal arguments within judicial processes, but also because it promotes international cooperation in investigations, execution of sentences and other legal aspects within the countries that are members of the Hague Convention. However, it is crucial to highlight the importance of accuracy and integrity in documentation submitted for apostille. The apostille does not validate the content of the document, but rather the authenticity of the signature and seal. Therefore, the parties involved must ensure that the information presented is accurate and truthful.

What is the procedure to apostille documents in Panama? In Panama, the competent authority to apostille public and notarized documents is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the process begins with the authentication of the document by the issuing entity, this could involve the authentication of a Judgment before the Courts of Justice, a Power of attorney before a Notary Public or other legal documents. Subsequently, the competent authority, in our case the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, places or affixes the apostille to the document, certifying its authenticity.

However, it is necessary to express that documents issued in a foreign country are not apostilled or legalized in Panama. That is, these must be apostilled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the country where the document was issued. Usually these documents, issued by other governments, come apostilled and in other languages. If the documents come in languages other than Spanish, they must be translated by an authorized public translator, whose suitability has been issued by the Republic of Panama.

Do documents apostilled before a foreign court have an expiration date? Well, this case will depend on the type of apostilled document, since the apostille will remain valid as long as the document is valid:

  • Apostilles that don’t expire: are those that go on documents that don’t expire either, such as, for example, judicial documents, degrees and academic certificates.
  • Apostilles that expire: are the documents that have a validity period; the apostille will expire when the document does. For example, the certificates issued by the Civil Registry, which have an expiration period of 90 days.

On the other hand, for countries that are not signatories to the Hague Convention, there is another method to provide legal documents from abroad in Panama. This method is the authentication process through the Panamanian Consulate in the country issuing the document, together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Panama. Our Judicial Code is precise when referring to the importance of the authentication of documents coming from a foreign country and in its article 877, quotes the following:

“Except as provided in international conventions, documents issued in a foreign country will be considered as evidence, depending on the case, if they are presented authenticated by the diplomatic or consular official of Panama with functions in the place from which the document comes and in the absence of them, by the diplomatic or consular representative of a friendly nation. In the latter case, a certificate from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be attached stating that there is no consular or diplomatic official from Panama in the place where the document comes from. It is presumed, because they are authenticated in this way, that the documents are issued in accordance with the local law of their origin, without prejudice to the interested party proving otherwise. If the documents from abroad are written in a language other than Spanish, they will be presented translated or their translation will be requested by a public interpreter and, failing this, by an ad hoc one, appointed by the court."

On the other side, the Judicial Branch of Panama, through the Office of International Legal Affairs, in compliance with Executive Decree No. 29 of February 8, 1991, which authorizes the granting of sole legalization, annotation or apostille to certain public officials in compliance with the Hague Convention of October 5, 1961, on the suspension of legalization requirements for foreign documents, prepares the apostille of judicial documents for use abroad, which is signed by the general secretary of the plenary session of the Supreme Court of Justice. In turn, this system allows issuing apostilles electronically (e-apostilles) and keeping electronic records of the apostilles through the document manager and the qualified electronic signature, which provides greater security and certainty of the document, effectively simplifying judicial procedures in Panama.

In conclusion, the apostille of documents plays a prominent role in simplifying judicial procedures in Panama. By aligning the process with international standards, Panama promotes effectiveness and transparency in the judicial field, promoting trust and accessibility in legal procedures. This modern approach reflects the country's commitment to facilitating access to justice and collaboration in the international legal arena. Without a doubt, this simplified process has a significant impact on the efficiency of judicial procedures in Panama, removing the need for multiple legalization steps since the apostille expedites the presentation of foreign documents before Panamanian courts. The above benefits the involved parts in the judicial process and contributes to the efficiency of our judicial system.

The information provided by ARIAS® is presented for informational purposes only. This information is not legal advice and is not intended to create, and does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. Readers should not act upon this information without seeking advice from professional advisers.

María Isabel Pinilla
Associate, Arias Panama.