Signing powers for councillors: guidance

Information for elected members of local authorities about their signing powers, which came into force on 10 December 2007.

Chapter 2

Personal Knowledge

This chapter deals with signing duties where the Councillor has personal knowledge of the individual making the application or the matters involved. In the context of this chapter, the Councillor is making a statement of matters within their personal knowledge and is responsible for the accuracy of this statement ( e.g. "I confirm by my signature that the applicant signed this form." or "This photograph is a true likeness of Fred Smith.")

2.1 Passport Applications

Councillors may be asked to confirm the identity of an applicant for a British Passport. In these circumstances a Councillor must have known the applicant personally for at least two years. A Councillor may also be approached by a person who is making a passport application to authenticate a Statutory Declaration that is required for their application (see section 3.2).

Councillors may also be asked to authenticate documents in relation to the emigration of persons to other countries such as New Zealand (see section 2.4 and section 2.3). Note should be taken of the comment in subsection 1.1.2 about foreign documents.

2.1.1 Identification of Applicant

In all Passport Applications there is a requirement on the applicant to produce a photograph which must resemble him or herself. Councillors should note that on signing the application form they are required to write on the reverse side of such a photograph certifying that the picture on the other side is actually a good likeness of the applicant.

For a straightforward application for a British Passport, if a Councillor is approached it to confirm their personal knowledge of the photographic likeness and identity of the applicant. For Passport Applications Councillors should note that the document is being presented so that the Councillor may certify:

  1. that the photograph accompanying the application is a true likeness of the applicant; and
  2. that the applicant for the passport has been known personally to the Councillor for at least two years and that to the best of the Councillor's knowledge and belief the facts stated on the form are correct.

Such a declaration can also be signed by a Member of Parliament, minister of religion, lawyer, bank officer, established civil servant, school teacher, police officer, doctor or other person of similar standing in the community who has knowledge of the applicant.

Councillors should not sign if they are personally related to the applicant.

The relevant parts of the form for application for UK Passport (Part 8 -"Other Information" and Part 10 -"Countersignature") are shown in Appendix A.1 and the corresponding notes for completion are shown in Appendix A.2.

2.1.2 Councillor's Personal Details

The Passport Application form asks for the passport number of the counter signatory. It may be the case that the applicant is well known to a Councillor, perhaps as a constituent, but that the Councillor is reluctant to reveal personal information to them. If a Councillor is uncomfortable disclosing their own passport number, there are several courses that they may follow

  • The Councillor can ask the applicant to find another person to act as a counter signatory.
  • The Councillor may ask the person to give the otherwise fully completed application, together with all the supporting documents and passport fee, to the Councillor who will complete the counter signatory section and send the form directly to the Passport Agency on behalf of the applicant.
  • The Councillor may indicate in the "Other Information" section of the form that they are unwilling to reveal their personal details to the applicant, and the Passport Agency may then contact the Councillor to confirm their passport number. The applicant should be warned that this could result in a delay in the processing of the application.

2.2 Driving Licences

Applicants for a photographic Driving Licences may be required to submit certified photographs of themselves, and a Councillor may be approached by an applicant to certify their photograph. The procedure is the same as for certification of photographs when a Passport is being applied for and the notes in Section 2.1.1 should be referred to.

2.3 Emigration

In addition to documents which may be required to enable a UK citizen to travel abroad there may on occasion be the need for the completion of documents to enable a UK citizen to enter another country.

In the context of emigration applications and corresponding applications for employment, applicants are sometimes required to submit certain documents. It is often acceptable, and understandably desirable, for certified copies of these to be sent abroad. In this regard, reference to Section 2.4 may be appropriate.

2.4 Certified True Copies

A Councillor may be approached to annotate a copy of an original document as a true copy. For example, when the owner of an irreplaceable document, like a degree certificate, has to send it by post to an employer that person may prefer to send a copy of their degree rather than risk losing the original in the post. In these circumstances the person requiring to see the document may accept a certified true copy in its place. If the document is required for official purposes then a list of those who may certify the copy will often be laid down. Often the class of people who can certify that a document is a true copy will include Justices of the Peace, and therefore Councillors. (Note should be taken of the comment in subsection 1.1.2). In other cases the owner of the original may agree with whoever requires the document that a certified true copy will be acceptable and that certification by a Councillor is acceptable.

A copy is certified by writing on the copy words to the effect:

This is a true copy of the document that was shown to me today, [date].

[Signature of Councillor] [Name of Councillor], Member of a Local Authority [Name of Council]

Commonly, black and white photocopies are used. It would seem to be good practice, if possible, to write this endorsement using coloured (e.g. blue rather than black) ink. This enables the particular copy that has been certified to be distinguished from photocopies of the certified copy.

The Councillor is not certifying that the "original" document is truly what it appears to be, for example a degree certificate or the identification page of a passport. The Councillor is only certifying that the copy and the "original" match and that the "original" looks genuine. It is important to check that the information on the copy is the same as that on the original (for example, names, places, awards and grades). (Off-the-shelf image manipulation computer software can be used to alter a scanned image before it is printed so that an apparent "photocopy" could have different information, e.g. grades of pass, from the original.)

With computer scanners and colour printers it is possible to make quite convincing fakes that are difficult to detect, and it is unreasonable to expect a Councillor to be able to spot a good forgery. Nevertheless certain characteristics may give rise to a suspicion that the "original" is not genuine. For example, valuable original documents are usually printed on heavyweight paper, often have a watermark, are often printed in several colours and sometimes have an embossed seal. It is not necessary for the Councillor to seek evidence that the "original" is real, but if the "original" is obviously suspect then the Councillor should refuse to certify the copy.

It is a common law crime to "utter as genuine" a false document. This crime is committed by simply showing the false original to someone as if it were genuine. It is not necessary for there to have been any action taken on the basis that the document was genuine. If a Councillor believes that they have been asked to certify a copy of a false original then the matter should be reported to the police.

2.5 Shotguns and Firearms

The procedure to be gone through by someone applying for a shotgun or a firearm certificate has changed a little in recent years -more so in the case of a firearm than a shotgun. More attention is paid to the state of mind of the applicant and the police officer dealing with the application would wish the counter signatory (or referee) to know the applicant well enough as to have no difficulty in answering the questions about him.

While the usual list of counter signatories (M.P., JP, doctor, established civil servant etc.) is given on the shotgun form, this is absent from the firearm one. "Referees" for an application for a firearm do not need to holders of a particular office. They can be, of course, and applicants may still tend to come to such a person. However, in the case of firearm applications, current knowledge of the person is a more important element in the process than the standing of the referee. Two such referees are required for a firearm.

The application may be for one or other or both shotgun and firearm together (co-terminus).

Do not worry if you are unsure of the various types of shotguns and firearms -your knowledge of the applicant is more important than your knowledge of weapons.

Shotgun Certificate Checklist

A specimen application form is included in Appendix A.3.

  1. Read the notes
  2. Have you known the person for at least the last two years?
  3. Has the form been completed?
  4. Can you say that, to the best of your knowledge, the answers to questions 1 to 16 are true?
  5. Does the photograph represent a true likeness of the applicant?
  6. Is the applicant of stable and temperate character?
  7. Are you happy that you know of no reason why the applicant should not be allowed to possess a shotgun?
  8. If yes to all the above: complete part "D" and countersign the back of one photograph with the words given in the notes.
  9. If you know of some reason why applicant should not be allowed to possess a shotgun: refuse to sign and notify the Chief Constable of your concerns.
  10. If you subsequently become unhappy with having signed: notify the Chief Constable of your concerns.

Firearm Certificate Checklist

  1. A specimen application form is included in Appendix A.4.
  2. Read the notes, and study the questions on the separate referees' form.
  3. Have you known the person for at least the last two years?
  4. Has the form been completed?
  5. Can you say that, to the best of your knowledge, the answers to questions 1 to 16 are true?
  6. Does the photograph represent a true likeness of the applicant?
  7. Are you able to answer the questions on the separate referees' form?
  8. Is the applicant of stable and temperate character?
  9. Are you happy that you know of no reason why the applicant should not be allowed to possess a firearm?
  10. If yes all to above: complete your part of part "E" and keep one of the referee forms.
  11. Endorse the back of one of the photographs with the words given on the form.
  12. Fill in referee form (in absence of applicant) and submit direct to police in envelope provided.
  13. If you know of some reason why the applicant should not be allowed to possess a firearm: refuse to sign and notify the Chief Constable of your concerns.
  14. If you subsequently become unhappy about having signed: notify the Chief Constable of your concerns.
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