Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Papel Sellado By Another Name

New Year's brought a change to another legacy of Spain in Honduras. In 2012, papel sellado, or legal size sheets of paper with tax stamps affixed to them, is no longer valid for legal documents. Instead, Hondurans must get used to two different colors of Papel Especial Notarial, or special notarial paper. Same concept, different implementation.

In a Royal decree of 15 December 1636, the Spanish King, Phillip IV established papel sellado as a royal right and a way of conferring "trustworthiness" on legal documents. While the decree talks of improving the reliability of legal documents and this being a royal right, the income generated from it was equally welcome. Papel sellado sold for 4 or 8 reales. The decree went into effect in Spain in 1637, and papel sellado came to Central America in 1638 and replaced a tradition of writing legal documents on plain paper.

In the Honduran colony, papel sellado was initially scarce, such that many legal documents continued to be written on plain paper. It was not until the 18th century that papel sellado really became widely used in Honduras, and even then, one frequently encounters documents written on plain paper that bear the notation "written on plain paper because we have no papel sellado" in the Archivo General de Centroamerica.

Thus papel sellado formed part of the Spanish colonial legal and bureaucratic system brought forward to the present day.

This year Honduras turned its back on another part of its colonial history.

In 2002, Decree 194-2002 conferred on the Supreme Court the power to provide, administer, and distribute papel sellado of a single type for all legal uses. The court also acquired the right to determine the price of the paper. On November 12, 2011, La Gaceta published the Reglamento para la emisión, adminstración, distribución y uso del papel expecial notarial, issued by the Supreme Court to do away with papel sellado.

The new paper for legal documents is called "special notarial paper" and comes in two colors, green and orange. As I understand it, the green is for wills and contracts, the orange for legal documents with the government. Only approved notaries can buy the green paper, on sale at banks. Approval consists of authorization in writing from either the Comptroller of Notaries or the judiciary. Notaries do not require authorization to buy the orange paper from a bank. Each sheet will sell for a court established price of 20 lempiras.

There is no argument in the rule that special notarial paper is more secure than papel sellado. While the rule calls for the special notarial paper to be printed on "security paper", it does not specify any security requirements. Generally such papers are watermarked, and may incorporate metal or plastic threads, some of which might fluoresce under ultraviolet light. However, paper alone is not enough to provide security. It's far too easy to steal paper. Usually one specifies security features in the printing as well, as is done for currency.

The description of what's printed on the special notary paper provides no security. It is printed without lines. On one side is the seal of the Judiciary, on the other is a drawing of Themis, the Greek representation of divine justice, law, and custom. Below Themis is printed the phrase "Special Notarial Paper", the value, and the four year interval for which it is valid.

Both papel sellado and special notarial paper must be capable of holding 25 double spaced lines of text printed on them while maintaining strict margins.

So the special notarial paper seems to be "because I can", not because it has any benefit for Honduras or Hondurans.

Papel sellado by another name.

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