A Commissioner for Oaths may sound like an obscure, highly legalized term that one sometimes hears but never really understands. On the contrary, a Commissioner for Oaths plays a rather simple role – he facilitates the making of oaths or affirmations by persons (who are referred to as “deponents”) which accompany the statements that they make or documents they submit. Nevertheless, the simplicity of the role belies its importance; the oath or affirmation is required for such statements or documents to have legal significance, such as being used in court or accepted by a government body within this jurisdiction, ie, Singapore.
What does a Commissioner for Oaths do?
A Commissioner for Oaths, as the name suggests, primarily administers oaths or affirmations to a person making an affidavit, statutory declaration or other legal document, which are to be used within Singapore. A Commissioner for Oaths may also receive acknowledgements of certain persons or issues. While this may sound complicated, it can be broken down quite simply.
What are affidavits and statutory declarations?
Affidavits and statutory declarations are two types of legal documents which essentially state or declare a particular fact or set of facts. An affidavit is a sworn or affirmed written statement of fact, usually used as evidence in court proceedings. A statutory declaration is a statement, the format of which is prescribed by statute declaring something to be true. However, unlike an affidavit, it is not sworn but it is just declared. For example, the Companies Act requires the directors of a company to make a statutory declaration regarding certain facts about the company, before the directors are allowed to appoint a provisional liquidator. The other distinction between and affidavit and a statutory declaration is that an affidavit is used for the purposes of court proceedings whereas a statutory declaration is not. To help ensure their truthfulness and the authenticity of such documents, the documents must be made on oath or affirmed.
What are oaths and affirmations?
An oath is a solemn promise to tell the truth, and often has a religious element through its reference to God. Many people would be familiar with the oft-spoken phrases “So help me God” or “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”, which form part of a typical oath. In full, the oath reads: “I swear by Almighty God that the contents of this affidavit are the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So help me God.” In taking the oath, the deponent will be required to raise his right hand and repeat the oath after the Commissioner for Oaths. The oath thus represents an appeal by a deponent to God to witness the truth of his statement, on the basis of his responsibility to answer to God.
On the other hand, an affirmation does not include a reference to God and is thus used by non-religious deponents or by deponents whose religions are based on a different conception of a divine being. Nonetheless, affirmations, similarly to oaths, represent a solemn and formal declaration that the statement made is true. An affirmation has the same legal force as an oath, and is taken in the same way. In full, an affirmation reads: “I solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that the contents of this affidavit are the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
What is the role of a Commissioner for Oaths?
This is where a Commissioner for Oaths comes into play. The role of a Commissioner for Oaths is to administer the taking of an oath or affirmation by a person in relation to his affidavit, statutory declaration or other legal document. This means that the deponent must take the oath or make the affirmation in front of a Commissioner for Oaths, who will then record this oath or affirmation. In certain cases, the Commissioner for Oaths may do this via video-conferencing link. The Commissioner also performs the important tasks of ensuring that the person signing the document, whether an affidavit or a statutory declaration is indeed the person named in the document by checking the details against his/her identification documents and by seeking a confirmation from that person that he/she has read the document and understands the contents of it. A Commissioner for Oaths can also receive acknowledgements from certain persons relating to specific issues.
However, it should be noted that, as will be elaborated on below, there are different types of persons who can be appointed as Commissioners for Oaths. The different types may have different powers and functions. Specifically, the powers of Commissioners for Oaths who are advocates and solicitors are limited to taking affidavits or affirmations, swearing executors and administrators and taking and receiving statutory declarations. On the other hand, non-lawyer Commissioner for Oaths may have additional functions, depending on the specific rules which apply in each case. These functions include:
- Receiving acknowledgements of married women;
- Receiving acknowledgements of recognizance of bail and bail bonds; and
- Administering oaths for the justification of bail, swearing in persons in court, the examination of witnesses and other circumstances.
A Commissioner for Oaths can administer the taking of an oath or affirmation in various languages. Primarily, a Commissioner for Oaths administers oaths and affirmations in English, but is allowed to administer them in other languages or dialects if the Commissioner for Oaths is proficient in them. The wide range of languages available will be further elaborated on below.
Moreover, it is important to note that the Commissioner for Oaths is only involved when it comes to documents to be used in Singapore, such as in Singapore court proceedings. This is compared to documents that are to be used outside of Singapore, where a Notary Public’s services are required instead. More information on a Notary Public and the functions of a Notary Public can be found here.
Who can be a Commissioner for Oaths?
Commissioners for Oaths are appointed by the Board of Commissioners for Oaths and Notaries Public, as authorized by the Senate of the Singapore Academy of Law. Apart from appointing Commissioners for Oaths, the Board of Commissioners for Oaths and Notaries Public also performs several other important functions:
- Looks into complaints made against Commissioners for Oaths alleged to have acted in breach of the conditions of their appointments
- Reviews the fees payable to Commissioners for Oaths
- Makes recommendations regarding the amendment of existing legislation or introduction of new legislation concerning Commissioners for Oaths.
The Board of Commissioners for Oaths and Notaries Public is made up of:
- A chairman who is part of the Senate of the Singapore Academy of Law;
- A judicial officer nominated by the Chief Justice;
- A public officer nominated by the Minister for Law;
- An advocate and solicitor nominated by the Law Society; and
- A secretary.
Commissioners for Oaths are appointed for a period of one year at a time, and may be reappointed for further periods thereafter. In appointing Commissioners for Oaths, the Board of Commissioners for Oaths and Notaries Public will take into consideration the number of Commissioners for Oaths already practicing in the place where the applicant proposes to practice. Further, the Board of Commissioners for Oaths and Notaries Public will consider the convenience brought to the people living in that area by the appointment of the applicant as a Commissioner for Oaths.
The law prescribes certain requirements that need to be met in order for a person to be eligible to apply to become a Commissioner for Oaths. On one hand, applicants who are advocates and solicitors of Singapore must have at least 7 years in active practice or as a legal service officer. Advocates and solicitors of the Supreme Court of Singapore are lawyers who have a license to practice law in Singapore. In practice, however, the Board of Commissioners for Oaths and Notaries Public require the advocate and solicitor to possess at least 10 years’ experience in active legal practice and/or legal service, and be at least 35 years old. Moreover, the Board of Commissioners for Oaths and Notaries Public will reject the application if the advocate and solicitor has had disciplinary proceedings brought against him, as a result of which penalties have been imposed.
On the other hand, other persons who are eligible to apply to become a Commissioner for Oaths include officers who are employed by Government ministries, departments, statutory boards and government-linked companies, as well as court interpreters, and employees of certain non-profit organizations designated by the Senate of the Singapore Academy of Law. Applicants in this category must have at least GCE “O” Levels or their equivalent, must be at least 25 years old, and must be employed by the organization for at least 1 year.
However, a person’s appointment as a Commissioner for Oaths can be revoked. This can happen when:
- The Commissioner for Oaths becomes a bankrupt;
- The Commissioner for Oaths is convicted of an offence, and is sentenced to a term of imprisonment;
- The Commissioner for Oaths is an advocate and solicitor, and is suspended or struck off the roll of the Supreme Court of Singapore, and thus is no longer allowed to practice as a lawyer;
- The Commissioner for Oaths is a government officer or court interpreter, and is dismissed from service, reduced in rank, or has had his employment terminated; or
- The Commissioner for Oaths is an employee of a non-profit organization, and has had his employment terminated, or the Senate of the Singapore Academy of Law revokes the designation of the non-profit organization.
How can I find a Commissioner for Oaths?
A directory of Commissioners for Oaths can be found here, as provided by the Singapore Academy of Law. Given that there are 800 law firms offering services as Commissioners for Oaths, there’s plenty to choose from. Commissioner for Oaths services are also available for Supreme Court-related matters at the Legal Registry at Level 2 of the Supreme Court Building.
In selecting a Commissioner for Oaths, it may be helpful to take note of the location of Commissioner for Oaths, and find one near your home or workplace for convenience’s sake. Moreover, you should find a Commissioner for Oaths who is proficient in a language that you are comfortable with. The languages offered by various Commissioners for Oaths span a wide range, including English, Malay, Tamil, Mandarin, Hindi, Bahasa Indonesia, Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Punjabi, Urdu and Gujarati. However, it should be noted that the Commissioner for Oaths services at the Supreme Court provides interpretation only in Mandarin, Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Tamil, Malayalam, Malay, Javanese and Boyanese. For interpretation in other languages, you will be required to engage your own Commissioner.
What are the fees payable to a Commissioner for Oaths?
The fees payable to a Commissioner for Oaths for his commissioning services are prescribed by law. They are as follows:
|Taking an affidavit or affirmation before an advocate and solicitor
|Affidavit or affirmation itself
|Each exhibit referred to in an affidavit sworn or affirmed before an advocate and solicitor
|Taking or receiving a statutory declaration
|Statutory declaration itself
|Each exhibit referred to in the statutory declaration which is required to be marked
One should note that apart from the above fees, the Commissioner for Oaths is allowed to charge additional fees for work such as translation, interpretation and travelling time. However, a Commissioner for Oaths is expected to charge a reasonable rate in respect for such work.
Have any questions?
If you would like to seek legal advice or the services of a Commissioner of Oaths, you may book a Quick Consult with Gulab Sobhraj from a transparent, flat fee of S$49 and expect a call back within 1-2 days to get your questions answered.
This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to a practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Interstellar Group Pte. Ltd. accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.