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Why won’t a notary issue a certified copy of my UK Birth Certificate?

Today’s question is one that touches on Crown Copyright and that has come up quite frequently:

Why won’t a notary issue a certified copy of my UK Birth Certificate?

Some of the most personal documents one can have are certificates, and so we are used to keeping them treasured and safe. For that reason, whenever someone requests to see them, we often want to keep the originals, and present only a certified copy.

Notaries are usually very happy to assist in this, except in one respect – where Crown Copyright is involved.

Crown Copyright, as currently defined in section 163 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, makes reproduction of Crown copywritten material an infringement, which is a civil offence.

Crown copyright covers material created by civil servants, ministers and government departments and agencies. This includes legislation, government codes of practice, Ordnance Survey mapping, government reports, official press releases, academic articles and many public records. Crucially, it also includes any signature of a Government official, and any stamps, logos or seals of the Crown.

This means that the instrumental parts of a UK birth, marriage or death certificate, as well as an original UK Decree Nisi or Absolute (in respect of divorces), a British naturalisation certificate issued when you become a British Citizen, or a Certificate issued by Companies House in respect of a UK registered entity, cannot be reproduced. This includes, technically, scanning as well as photocopying, but is allowed in certain circumstances, so long as the reproduction is not being used to prove the act being the subject of the certificate.

Therefore, producing a certified copy of your birth certificate to prove details of your birth, unless redacted to the point that one would be unsure the certificate was authentic, would be a civil offence.

One can see then why notaries would be reluctant!

The Legalisation Office of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will also refuse to issue apostilles on certified documents that breach Crown Copyright. This includes, interestingly, photocopies of apostilles (which feature the signature of a Crown official and the Crown’s seal).

How then do you proceed?

In terms of certificates issued by the General Register Office, which maintains records of UK births, deaths and marriages, you must request further copies from that office. The certificates you receive (similar to the ones you probably currently have) are usually entitled “certified copy of an entry” because the official record is kept by the GRO itself.

Notaries are usually quite happy to help you out in ordering further copies, which can cost as little as £11 and can be expedited at an additional cost in times of emergency. Should the documents need to go abroad, the signature of the Registrar on the certified copies issued by the GRO are directly confirmed by FCO Apostille in accordance with the Hague Apostille Convention.