Do I have to print my legal documents on stamped paper or normal A4 paper?
This question regarding the requirement of stamped paper is also related to one of our FAQs because it is a question that many clients ask us when they need to send their documents to India.
Actually, we have written extensively on this topic in other forums because the requirement still seems to trouble many people. Hopefully this article clarifies the question and helps you understand what you need to do in your situation.
Printing legal documents on stamped paper is a method of tax or duty collection. Certain transactions will attract tax or duty (ie, stamp duty), and so one way to pay this liability is by buying stamped paper and printing the associated legal document on that stamped paper. In effect, it is pre-paid tax or duty and has been used in different states and countries all over the world.
In India, buying and using stamped paper is still a common way to pay tax or duty on a transaction, and in many of the cases that we see, clients often have their general power of attorney or special power of attorney for land transactions printed on stamped paper. As far as we are aware, in all of these cases, the power of attorney was prepared by their lawyer in India on stamped paper bought from a licensed stamp paper vendor. Their lawyer then sends them the original hard copy (printed on stamped paper) to them in Australia for signing. Since the power of attorney is signed outside of India, it must be witnessed and notarised by us. Sometimes clients also need have the power of attorney attested by the Indian Consulate (again, you should be directed by your lawyer in India if this is necessary), which now means that after we have notarised the document, it must be stamped with an apostille from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and then submitted to VFS (who process these documents on behalf of the Indian Consulate) for attestation. Although this is supposed to be the ‘proper’ and most formal approach to having a document properly notarised and attested by the Indian Consulate, clients sometimes just return their document to India after it has been notarised and take no further steps.
In the cases where the document, such as the general power of attorney or special power of attorney, has not been printed on stamped paper, our understanding is that the document must then be stamped within 3 months of arriving in India (see s18 of the Indian Stamp Act 1899). As opposed to stamped paper which is pre-paid tax or duty, this could perhaps be described as post-paid tax or duty.
Essentially, the majority of clients who provide us with their power of attorney printed on normal A4 paper do not need to be overly concerned that their document was not printed on stamped paper – it just means that they will be paying for their tax or duty liability in another way. Assumably their lawyer, their attorney or whoever they are dealing with in India will know what to do with the document and the tax or duty liabilities associated with the transaction.
Obviously if you are still concerned about this issue then you should still seek specific advice from your lawyer in India.
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Ern Phang is the solicitor director of Phang Legal and a public notary. Ern regularly writes about his experiences as a public notary and the kinds of issues faced by his clients in sending documents overseas.
All information contained in this article is for general purposes only and correct as at the time of publication. You should only rely on information and advice that is specific to your situation and current at the time you wish to rely on it.