Chapter 1. Letters of credence and letters of recall
Letters of credence
In view of the importance of the position, official as well as personal, of the head of diplomatic mission, custom requires that the government which sends the envoy ascertains before his appointment that he will be persona grata. The request for agrement or acceptance is presented either through the head of the mission of the receiving state or the charge d’affaires who is temporarily in charge of the mission, or through the diplomatic mission of the sending state in the receiving state.
The new head of mission is provided be the government with official letters called letters of credence. A letter of credence is a formal letter usually sent by one head of state to another that formally grants diplomatic accreditation to a named individual (usually but not always a diplomat) to be their ambassador in the country of the head of state receiving the letter. We can say that this is a document accrediting a diplomatic representative. A letter of credence is a special letter that is usually only sent between the heads of state of various countries. Its main purpose is to grant diplomatic accreditation to one of the state’s agents. In simple terms, this means making someone the official ambassador between two countries. It is important to note that the contents of the letter are only effective once the receiving state accepts the offer of credence.
The Credentials have replaced diplomas - double plates with inscriptions painted on them that were issued to envoys to confirm their authority. This term came from Greek word "diploma"( díplōma - folded sheet of paper).
In the Byzantine there was the system of credentials. In Russia in X - XVII centuries diploma (or grammata ) meant business document (mainly so called acts) and letters (official and private). The term was borrowed from the Byzantine Empire, where it meant messages, orders and any other written documents.
Nowadays in a letter of credence there is a request to believe everything that will be set out by Ambassador on behalf of the head of the state and the government. It duly certifies the representative (diplomatic) character of his mission and of his person as a diplomatic representative.
The letter of credence of an ambassador or envoy is drawn up in an established form and is addressed by the head of one state to the head of another, the appropriate signatures and seals being duly affixed thereto. The signature of the head of state is usually confirmed by the signature of the head of the department of foreign affairs. Chargés d’affaires and political representatives, when accredited, are furnished with a letter from the head of the department of foreign affairs of their country to the head of the department of the country to which they are appointed.
A letter of credence states the name and title (rank) of the sender and recipient, the name and diplomatic rank of the representative, and a request to “accredit” him in all relations, namely, as a representative of the said state. Sometimes the letter of credence sets out briefly the reasons and aims of the diplomatic mission and the state of diplomatic relations between the two countries at the time.
The letter of credence is handed over by the diplomatic representative at his first audience with the head of state, and a certified copy thereof is forwarded beforehand to the head of the department of foreign affairs.
A letter of credence states the general powers of the diplomatic representative. Once accredited, he needs no further authority for his statements and declarations in the country in which he is stationed, and all his official acts, letters, and utterances are entirely the responsibility of the government that has appointed him. However, his credentials as such do not empower the diplomatic representative to sign international agreements without special authorization.
In parliamentary democracies, heads of state or their representatives accept or reject letters of credence on the basis of advice (that is, instructions from the government which put the head of state under obligation) from their state's government. In reality, however, they are almost invariably accepted, as both states will have informally discussed the issue prior to the formal ceremony. If a problem were to arise, it would be sorted out in these earlier government to government contacts.
Until a head of state or his or her delegate formally accepts a letter of credence, an ambassador-designate does not formally assume diplomatic status, including the possession of diplomatic immunity. In many states, a minister in the government or in cabinet will attend (that is, be present with) the head of state at the actual ceremony, to symbolize the fact that the acceptance or rejection of the letter of credence is on the basis of government advice.
Letters of credence are the most formal form of exchange between states short of state visits, with formal modes of address such as titles and styles being used. This may be significant; for example, when Italy deposed the Haile Selassie of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and claimed his title, Emperor of Abyssinia, for the King of Italy (Victor Emmanuel III), not all states recognized this claim (see diplomatic recognition), and some letters of credence were addressed to the "King of Italy and Emperor of Abyssinia," others to the "King of Italy." King George VI, as King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, addressed his letters of credence to the "King of Italy"; however, as King of Ireland, on the advice of the Irish government of Éamon de Valera, he addressed his letters of credence to the "King of Italy and Emperor of Abyssinia," because the Irish Free State, unlike the United Kingdom, recognized the King of Italy's imperial title.
Another dispute revolved around the name of the Irish state. Between 29 December 1937 and 2 December 1999, the Irish constitution laid claim to the territory of the entire island of Ireland. The constitution also gave the Irish state the name Ireland. The United Kingdom rejected the territorial claim and also adopted a policy of referring to the state using forms such as "Republic of Ireland" and "Eire" (an anglicised spelling of the name for Ireland in the Irish language) which did not imply Irish sovereignty over the whole island. Consequently, on the advice of Her Majesty's Government, Queen Elizabeth II for a time addressed letters of credence to the President of Ireland by name (e.g., "President Robinson," "President McAleese," etc.). This compromise was agreed to by the governments of both states. However, as part of the Belfast Agreement, Ireland dropped its claim to the territory of Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom now accepts its official name, Ireland, and its letters of credence are now addressed to the President of Ireland.
Traditionally monarchs, particularly European ones, address each other in formal communications in the singular e.g. ‘I being desirous’ but address Presidents and other Heads of State in the majestic plural e.g. ‘We being desirous’. They also close formal letters with ‘Your good brother/sister’ for sovereigns, but with ‘Your good friend’ for other leaders.
Given that a head of state sends a letter of credence to a fellow head of state, the converse is true also. The person who sends a letter of credence is by implication a head of state (unless they are acting as the representative or designate of a head of state; for example, a governor-general). This became a source of dispute in independent Ireland from December 1936 to the declaration of the Republic of Ireland in 1949, when from 1937 to 1949 Ireland had both a President of Ireland and King George VI, who had been proclaimed King of Ireland. Given that under the External Relations Act the role of representing Ireland in the accreditation of ambassadors belonged to the King of Ireland on the advice of the Irish government, between those years the Irish head of state was unambiguously the King of Ireland. After April 1949, when that role was given by law to the President of Ireland, the President became Irish head of state.
Letters of recall
When a diplomatic representative leaves his post he hands over his letter of recall (lettre de rappel) and in turn sometimes receives a recredential (lettre de récréance) to remit to his own government on returning to his country.
A letter of recall is the opposite of the letter of credence, a letter sent from one head of state to another head of state recalling an ambassador, either as a means of diplomatic protest or because the diplomat is being reassigned elsewhere and is being replaced by another envoy.
Letters of recall is the document through which the government announces the recall of its diplomatic agent. They are addressed to the head of state to whom the diplomatic agent was accredited and signed by the head of the state who appointed the diplomatic agent and are countersigned by the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Letters of recall briefly inform about the fact of recalling a diplomatic agent, about the reasons of recalling and express the hope that the diplomatic agent contributed to maintaining and developing the diplomatic relations between the countries.
The form of the letter of recall and of the recredential conforms to the letter of credence.