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From QJA Guide to JP Practice Chapter 10

CHAPTER 10 CERTIFYING COPIES OF DOCUMENTATION

As part of your duties, you may be asked to certify that a copy of a document presented to you is a true copy of an original document. The reason for this is that many organisations, particularly government and financial institutions require documentation to support entering into certain business arrangements.

Provision of a "certified copy” allows the owner to retain possession of the original document. At other times, more than one person or organisation may need a copy of the same document and it is not possible for all to keep the original.

Examples of documents that often need to be certified are passports, driver's licences, birth certificates and educational qualifications.

You may think that certifying true copies is the easiest of all the witnessing tasks that you have to perform, but this is not necessarily the case, because it is also a process that is most open to fraud. For this reason, you should be wary when certifying true copies.

The most important matters to consider when certifying true copies are
  • The original document and the copy must be present at the time of certification.
  • You must be convinced that the original document presented is genuine. Original documents often have a logo, a seal or a watermark. If in doubt, decline to witness the document.
  • The copy being presented must replicate the original document in its entirety. e.g. Queensland Birth Certificates are often not in A4 format and therefore registration numbers are often left off the copy.
  • As a general rule, the copy should be made prior to approaching you for certification, but if you have access to a photocopier, you may wish to copy complicated documents yourself, as in this way it is known that the copy is identical to the original document.
  • Photocopied documents reduced in size are still able to be certified, provided that the writing and design features are the same as the original.

Steps for certifying copies of original one page documents

  1. Ask the person presenting the document to show you the original and the copy. If the original document is not present, you must decline to certify the copy.
  2. Peruse the original carefully to ensure that it is a genuine document. If in doubt as to whether it is the original document, decline to certify the copy.
  3. Compare the writing and design features on the original with the writing and design features on the copy. They must be identical.
  4. Check that no alterations have been made to the copy. Sometimes holding the original and copy up to the light together may assist in identifying any alterations.
  5. If all of the above checks are in order and the copy is a one page document, write on the copy -

"This is to certify that this is a true copy of the original document, which I have sighted”

Date:                 Signed:

Title: (e.g. JP(Qual) or use seal, and insert Registration Number)

Steps for certifying copies of original multi page documents

  1. Ask the person presenting the documents to show you the originals and the copies. If the originals are not present, you must decline to certify the copy.
  2. Peruse the originals carefully to ensure that they are genuine. If in doubt as to whether they are original documents, decline to certify the copies.
  3. Compare the writing and design features on the originals with the writing and design features on the copies. They must be identical.
  4. If the document has more than one page, each page of the copy must be numbered (1 of 4, 2 of 4 and so on) and initialled by both you and the counter party.
  5. Check that no alterations have been made to the copy. Sometimes holding the original and copy up to the light together may assist in identifying any alterations.
  6. Write on the last page:

"This is to certify that this ___ page document, each page of which I have numbered and signed is a true copy of the original __ page document, which I have sighted”

Date:               Signed:

Title: e.g. JP (Qual) or use seal and insert registration number

Certifying copies of international documents and foreign language documents

You can certify international documents and documents in a foreign language as true copies; however it is strongly recommended that you take extra care to check for inconsistencies. If you have access to a photocopier, it may be more efficient to photocopy the original document yourself. It is recommended that a translator be used if you have any doubts that the contents of the document may not be lawful.

It should also be pointed out that if the document is going to be submitted in a court overseas, it may meet the definition of an international document. In such a case, the matter should be referred to a notary public.

Certifying copies of electronic documents

In this technological age, Justices of the Peace and Commissioners for Declarations are being asked more often to certify printed versions of electronic documents. Examples of these are certified copies of emails, faxes and mobile phone text messages. With electronic documents, it is not possible to sight an original or the original that you sight may be able to be altered significantly at some point after the time that you sight it. The key with certifying copies of electronic copies is to alter your wording to accurately reflect what it is that you are certifying.

Altering wording of the certification may or may not be acceptable to the person presenting the document or the organisation receiving the document. It must be pointed out that with all electronic documents, an alternative to certifying these documents may be for the person concerned to annex the document to a statutory declaration and attest in the declaration that the presented document is a true copy of the original.


Facsimiles - it must be remembered that the original of a fax document is usually found at the location of the sender, yet it would usually be the receiver who wants a certified copy of the document. It is very difficult to identify the original of a fax document and such documents can be easily altered. It is recommended that you only witness certified copies of a fax if you are certain that you are viewing the original.


Emails and other computer generated documents - Computer documents presented to you on a piece of paper could not be considered to be original documents. Emails, in their printed form, may have been altered and you would need to view the original email received on the screen of the computer on which it was received. If you have done this, and are satisfied that you have compared the printed copy to the original email, you can witness the document. Alternatively you could view the document on the screen and then print it out. Either way, you would need to change your certification to verify what you have seen. The suggested verification would be:

"This is to certify that this is a true copy of the original email from (insert name) , which I sighted on a computer under the control of (insert name ) at (insert time) on (insert date) .”

Date:              Signed:

Title: (e.g. JP(Qual) or use seal, and insert registration number)

By stating a date and a time, you are safeguarding against any subsequent alteration that may occur. It is entirely up to the recipient institution whether or not they accept this certification.

If it was not practically possible to sight the computer screen, it may be necessary to alter the wording to

"This is to certify that this is a true copy of a printed email / internet download, original screen not sighted.”

Date:            Signed:

Title: (e.g. JP(Qual) or use seal, and insert registration number)


Mobile phone text messages (SMS) - get the person to inscribe the wording of the text message onto a sheet of paper, detailing the following:

Sender........

Message....

Phone number......

Message centre....

Date and time sent..... 

Content ......

You should directly view the text message on the phone and check it against the transcribed copy. The transcribed copy should be endorsed:

"This is to certify that this document is a true record of the content of the mobile phone text message which I have sighted”

Date:                  Signed:

Title: (e.g. JP(Qual) or use seal, and insert Registration Number)

Certifying copies of a "certified true copy”

A certified true copy of a document is not the original of a document, so you must either decline to witness the document or you can alter your certification to read:

"This is to certify that this is a true copy of a certified copy, which I have sighted”

Date:                   Signed:

Title: (i.e. JP(Qual) or use seal, and insert Registration Number)

You should then inform the person asking for the certification that it is up to the recipient institution whether the document is accepted.

Certifying copies of Enduring Powers of Attorney and Advance Health Directives

For enduring powers of attorney and advance health directives, the certification has to be a little different.

The reason for this is that the Powers of Attorney Act 1998 (Qld) specifies a different approach. Section 45 of the act says: 

Proof of enduring document

  1. An enduring document may be proved by a copy of the enduring document certified under this section.
  2. Each page, other than the last page, of the copy must be certified to the effect that the copy is a true and complete copy of the corresponding page of the original.
  3. The last page of the copy must be certified to the effect that the copy is a true and complete copy of the original.
  4. Certification must be by one of the following persons--

(a) the principal;

(b) a Justice;

(c) a Commissioner for Declarations;

(d) a notary public

It would then follow that the certification for all of the pages except for the last page of the document would be:

"This is to certify that this is a true and complete copy of the corresponding page of the original document, which I have sighted"

Date:                        Signed:


And the final is:


"This is to certify that this is a true and complete copy of the original document, which I have sighted"

Date:                        Signed:

Many of the pages of both the short form and the long form of the EPA are simply explanatory for completing the form and queries are often received as to whether these pages need to be certified. The wording of the Powers of Attorney Act 1998does need to be taken literally i.e. every page of the EPA (or AHD) should be certified in the correct manner.

Avoid writer's cramp - buy a stamp!

Certifying copies of documents can take a long time if you have to handwrite the required certification on every document. The QJA sells a range of rubber and self inking stamps with the most frequent certification phrases. Buying one of these is a very good investment, and you will avoid a case of writer's cramp as well.


end of chapter