What is a notary public and when will they be used?

Notary Public

A Notary Public is an officer of the law who holds an internationally recognised public office. The duty and function of a Notary is to prepare, attest, authenticate and certify deeds and other documents intended for use anywhere in the world. These documents can be both for individuals or private companies.
Notaries are also authorised to conduct general legal practice (apart from acting in court proceedings) such as conveyancing and probate. They may exercise the powers of a Commissioner for Oaths.

In England and Wales Notaries are most often concerned with the verification of documents and information that is intended to be used in other countries for clients who have business or property overseas or who are involved in litigation in foreign courts.

In most cases, a Notary will act as an impartial and legally trained witness to authenticate and certify the execution of documents.

Main duties

The main duties of a Notary are:

  • preparing and witnessing powers of attorney for use outside the UK;
  • dealing with the purchase or sale of land and property outside the UK;
  • providing documents to deal with the administration of the estate of people who are abroad, or who own property abroad;
  • authenticating personal documents and information for immigration or emigration purposes, or to apply to marry or work abroad;
  • authenticating company and business documents and transactions.

Documents handled by a Notary known as ‘notarial acts. These may be in public or private form – the latter mostly restricted to witnessing signatures. An act in public form is needed where a Notary confirms facts which s/he has verified personally. Notaries must verify for each client their identity, legal capacity and understanding of the document as well as their authority if signing on behalf of another party such as a limited company

Are Notaries also solicitors?

In many cases Notaries are also solicitors but this is not always the case. Notaries in fact form an independent branch of the legal profession.
Individuals who also practice as Notaries must keep their practice of any other professional or business separate from their function as a Notary meaning that solicitors who act as Notaries do not usually give advice concerning the meaning or effect of a document. This advice should be given by an independent solicitor.

Are there any circumstances in which Notarisation cannot take place?

Notarisation cannot take place where fraud or violence is involved.

Will the authentication or a notary be enough for the document to be finalised?

Requirements for authentication of documents vary from country to country so it is always important to contact a Notary as soon as possible to ensure that all the authentication requirements for that country are adhered to in time. For example, many countries require not only authentication from a Notary Public but also that the documents receive authentication from a body such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Appointment and regulation

Notaries are appointed by the Court of Faculties of the Archbishop of Canterbury and are regulated by the Master of the Faculties. The rules which affect Notaries are broadly similar those which affect Solicitors. They must be fully insured and maintain fidelity cover for the protection of their clients and the public. They must keep clients’ money separately from their own and comply with strict practice rules and rules relating to conduct and discipline. Notaries must renew their practising certificates every year and can only do so if they have complied with the rules.

Article written by...
Nicola Laver LLB
Nicola Laver LLB

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A non-practising solicitor, Nicola is also a fully qualified journalist. For the past 20 years, she has worked as a legal journalist, editor and author.