Monday, 7 December 2015

FCO not ready to recognise Enterprise

FCO's  Hanslope Park
I have been defeated by a lowly civil servant. All my efforts since 2008 defending the validity of the community trademark and then enforcing it are as nought (not quite only nought if the defendant stays away which is quite useful).

Orders made by the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court are not recognised by the Foreign &Commonwealth Office.

Why does that matter? If you want to provide a document to an overseas lawyer he wants to know it's authentic. The time-honoured way of doing this is by means of a chain of trust. The Hague convention establishes what is called an Apostille and this is attached to verify the authenticity of the seal or signature. The seal or signature is what verifies the document.

Application of the apostille in England and Wales is controlled by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. It is a responsible duty and they should discharge it with care. They discharge it in a remote part of the country (see picture above - a bleak and desolate spot to work so it may explain their bitterness) where the nearest civilisation is Milton Keynes.  The government website describes exactly how TO GET A DOCUMENT LEGALISED . The process is described with admirable clarity here. High court documents are specifically mentioned amongst those that the Foreign & Commonwealth Office will apostille directly. I would have preferred to hand deliver and collect the documents myself. What is the point of living in the centre of London if you can't do that? There is a premium service provided by the FCO. It didn't respond to my request to register. It didn't even bother to laugh in my face. Nevertheless there are businesses that are registered with them and eventually I paid one of those to take my document in, but I get ahead of myself.

Of course I had tried the way recommended on the website. This requires making the payment in advance; and filling in by hand an awkward form (after printing it out) including copying (very carefully) the 16 digit payment number from the screen and  and posting it all off. That was a waste of time. In due course they took the money and then refunded it less the postal charges and sent the papers back by snail mail so a week later I am no better off. The letter of rejection mutters about solicitors signatures and makes no sense in relation to a sealed document. Its standard letter No 2.  I ring up the helpline. It has very limited hours and a premium rate number (midday to 4pm Monday to Friday) and when I get through a very nice man says yes they've made a mistake and will I send an email. I send them an email. I send it again several times but no response not even a laugh in my face. The email address does not do delivery notifications either.

This is where I resort to the type of firm that is able to go to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and cross their palms with silver. They procure an explanation from the great and mighty (This is the lowly civil servant. I'm feeling frustrated so it's ironic ). This Explanation is that they don't recognise the seal. It has a date in it. Apparently seals with dates in them are not OFFICIAL and cannot be verified. All IPEC seals have dates. Now you do get stamps from the court which are just to say when a document was handed in. These are usually square and black.  Now the FCO is clearly saying that this document is not what it says it is. Nevertheless, if a solicitor signs it they'll happily apostille it so I can perpetrate something they think they know is a deceit.

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office do attach their apostille to a document prepared by a notary public that suggests Filemot had told "Mr Jones" that this was a copy of a document. The FCO apostille of course is only verifying that the notary public's signature is authentic. Even in foreign parts it seems likely that anyone in authority will be less than convinced by this triple hearsay. It  sounds suspicious to me especially when it is attached to a document which very plainly is not a  copy at all and isn't as described by the notary public.

This leaves me telling the client that he better go to one of those clever international law firms that know how to do these things, because having survived an Alicante torpedo and much else this order is never going to get personally served on anyone overseas. Of course in England a seal (even with a date in it) is authentic and the order so sealed can be served in person without more ado. The IPEC will even enforce them and charging orders and bench warrants for recalcitrant parties are all possibilities if they live in Milton Keynes or thereabouts.

So there we have it end of road in Hanslope. 

Recommendations welcome.


  1. Sorry, Barbara, I don't have any magic solution, but the problem is not unfamiliar. My colleague Victor Warner is a notary and he is used to this kind of problem arising. The following comments appear on his notary website ( a 'health warning' section:

    "If a problem is identified by the FCO (whether genuine or not) it is not possible to deal with the FCO in a timely manner Where a problem occurs it is difficult to speak to anyone at the Legalisation Office (the telephone lines is only open from 12 noon to 4pm) and the Legalisation Office can take up to 5 working days to respond to emails (and if they fail to respond it is necessary to send another email)

    On the one occasion I telephoned the Legalisation Office, I made 3 calls each lasting approximately 30 minutes, and on each occasion other than being told how important my call was to the FCO, I was not able to speak any one."


    1. It's good to know that it's jut not just me! One problem they seem to have is that they have a telephone support line that is not connected to the operations. However helpful the man on the phone, he can't get anything done

  2. Nice article here you are write its realy simple to understand thankyou for posting this,