A solicitor who called himself a notary when he was not and ‘apostilled’ documents despite not being allowed to, has been rebuked after saying he was unaware of the restrictions.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) said it acted after receiving complaints from both the public and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
According to a regulatory settlement agreement published yesterday, Joe Morgan created a website called DocumentCertifier to provide document certification and notarisation services.
The website allows users to upload an image of their document and then receive a PDF that contains a printed certification and signature.
At the material time, it said it could also produce an apostille – a government-issued certificate confirming that the signature, stamp or seal on a document is from a UK public official. This process of “legalising” certain official documents can be required by other countries.
Last summer, a client contacted the SRA to say she had used the website to certify and apostille a document for her from a scanned copy. But an apostille can only be issued by a competent authority, which in the UK is the FCDO.
“Mr Morgan was not authorised to issue an apostille. Ms C discovered that the documents issued through the website were invalid, and she would have to pay again for the services she required,” the agreement recorded.
Soon after, the SRA received a report from the Legalisation Office at the FCDO about the website, highlighting that Mr Morgan had described himself as a notary when he was not.
The solicitor told the SRA that he had certified documents for his clients in the past and, following the pandemic, decided to offer this service online. “Through this service, he was also asked to notarise and apostille documents, which he believed he could do.”
He provided notarial services for five months in 2021 and added an apostille to documents 25 times.
The SRA said that, as soon as Mr Morgan became aware that he could not notarise or apostille documents, he stopped doing so.
As well as these breaches, the solicitor admitted that he certified documents as being a true copy of the originals as seen by him, relying on having seen uploaded documents through his website, “when he had not seen the original documents”.
The regulator said a rebuke was the appropriate outcome: “Mr Morgan’s conduct was reckless as to the risk of harm he might cause because he has issued documents which are invalid and not considered the repercussions that might occur when those documents are presented to third parties.”
But, it added, there was a low risk of repetition.
DocumentCertifier describes itself as “the fastest way to legally certify your documents as a true copy of the original”, offering a 30-minute turnaround 24 hours a day and prices from £4.99. It says 8,200 documents have been certified through the site.
Mr Morgan wrote on the site that “typically, it takes considerable effort and time to find a solicitor to review and certify documents”.
He said that, after being asked by several friends and family to certify copies of various documents for them, he realised that there was a demand for this service, but that there were no online solutions.
“Law is an industry that remains very old-fashioned and which is prime for disruption. I realised that I could help bring legal services in the 21st century through creating the app.”