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Take Note - An Overview of Notaries Public

Mar 10, 2016
The notarial profession is small and discrete. Often the business or individual in need of notarial help has little idea of what a notary does until they are told of the requirement of one for the first time.

A wide range of documents require notarial intervention to be used overseas and every country has its own requirements as to how legal documents are prepared, executed and certified. Our Notaries Public are well qualified to advise on the varying formalities involved, having handled documentation for use across the globe. Since January 2016 alone, this has included: Norway, Switzerland, Poland, Turkey, Cyprus, Georgia, Bulgaria, India, Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Israel, South Africa, Tobago, Colombia, Jamaica, Florida, New York, Portugal, Spain, Belgium, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Brazil and Nicaragua.

Despite its relatively discrete existence in our towns and cities, the notarial profession and its notaries punctuate our history and our literature over many centuries. It is the oldest branch of the legal profession in England and Wales, and the smallest (there are only about 800 Notaries Public). The profession can trace its roots certainly to Roman times. Until 1535 the Pope granted licences to notaries in England and Wales. However, after the break with Rome in Tudor times, licences were granted by the Archbishop of Canterbury. In literature, notaries can be traced back in time to Chaucer, Dickens and Shakespeare. 

In more modern times, notaries have appeared on film, for example, in Tim Burton’s “Sleepy Hollow” and in Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man 2”.

Today, the notarial profession remains governed by the Faculty Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury and it is the Archbishop who continues to grant licences known a “faculties”. Before a faculty is granted, a notary is required to swear allegiance to the Crown and to swear a Notarial Oath to the effect that he or she will not make or attest any document which might involve violence or fraud. They also have to satisfy the Faculty Office of their good character.

The notary acts as an impartial and legally trained witness to authenticate and certify the execution of documents required or intended for use outside the UK. By virtue of the international status of my office, my signature and seal are recognised as the evidence of a responsible legal officer in most countries of the world. Consequently, I owe a duty to the recipient of the document as well as to my client. Every notary must have an individual and identifiable seal which, coupled with his or her signature, is accepted more or less anywhere in the world. Notaries pride themselves in their independence, probity and competence. It is a requirement that all new notaries have a degree in Law and a number of additional papers (including Private International Law, Notarial Practice and Roman Law), set first by Cambridge University and now University College London.

Documents requiring a notarial seal destined for a foreign jurisdiction are many and varied. The effect of a notarial act (sealing and signing) is to authenticate a document, whether commercial or private. Sometimes the notary is required to certify a fact or to ensure the due execution of Powers of Attorney. Notaries are also able to administer the oath required for the swearing of affidavits and declarations for use either in England and Wales or in a foreign jurisdiction.

Once notarised, some documents in some jurisdictions require an Apostille under the Hague Convention to be appended to the document. The purpose of this is to confirm that the notary is indeed a notary. There are some jurisdictions which also require a seal from the appropriate embassy also.

Fiona Spinks

About the author

Fiona Spinks

Fiona joined Nockolds in 2011 and is a Notary Public and Principal Associate. As a Notary Public, Fiona is able to authenticate documents for use ...

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