Definition of notary public
Anglo-Norman/Law French, on model of notaire publique, hence the unusual order of adjective following noun, instead of idiomatic English *public notary. Compare attorney general, court martial, fee simple, secretary general, surgeon general.
notary public (plural notaries public or notary publics)
- an officer who can administer oaths and statutory declarations, witness and authenticate documents and perform certain other acts varying from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
A notary public (or notary or public notary) in the common law world is a public officer constituted by law to serve the public in non-contentious matters usually concerned with estates, deeds, powers-of-attorney, and foreign and international business. A notary's main functions are to administer oaths and affirmations, take affidavits and statutory declarations, witness and authenticate the execution of certain classes of documents, take acknowledgments of deeds and other conveyances, protest notes and bills of exchange, provide notice of foreign drafts, prepare marine or ship's protests in cases of damage, provide exemplifications and notarial copies, and perform certain other official acts depending on the jurisdiction. Any such act is known as a notarization. The term notary public only refers to common-law notaries and should not be confused with civil-law notaries.
With the exceptions of Louisiana, Puerto Rico, Quebec, whose private law is based on civil law, and British Columbia, whose notarial tradition stems from scrivener notary practice, a notary public in the rest of the United States and most of Canada has powers that are far more limited than those of civil-law or other common-law notaries, both of whom are qualified lawyers admitted to the bar: such notaries may be referred to as notaries-at-law or lawyer notaries. Therefore, at common law, notarial service is distinct from the practice of law, and giving legal advice and preparing legal instruments is forbidden to lay notaries such as those appointed throughout most of the United States of America.
- England and Wales
After the passage of the 1533 Act, which was a direct result of the Reformation in England, all notary appointments were issued directly through the Court of Faculties. The Court of Faculties is attached to the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
In England and Wales there are several classes of notaries. English notaries who, like solicitors, barristers, legal executives and licensed conveyancers, are also commissioners for oaths, also acquire the same powers as solicitors and other law practitioners, with the exception of the right to represent others before the courts (unless also members of the bar or admitted as a solicitor) once they are licensed or commissioned notaries. In practice almost all English notaries, and all Scottish ones, are also solicitors, but typically do not perform such services.
Commissioners of oaths are able to undertake the bulk of routine domestic attestation work within the UK, and many documents, including signatures for normal property transactions, do not need professional attestation of signature at all, a lay witness being sufficient.
In practice the need for notaries in purely English legal matters is very small; for example they are not involved in normal property transactions. Since a great many solicitors also perform the function of commissioners for oaths and can witness routine declarations etc. (all are qualified to do so, but not all offer the service), most work performed by notaries relates to international matters in some way, and documents needing to be used abroad, and many of the small number of English notaries have strong foreign language skills and often a foreign legal qualification. The Notaries Society gives the number of notaries in England and Wales as "about 1000," all but 70 of whom are solicitors.
There are also Scrivener notaries, who get their name from the Scriveners' Company; until 1999, when they lost this monopoly, they were the only notaries permitted to practise in the City of London. They used not to have to first qualify as solicitors, but they had knowledge of foreign laws and languages.
Currently to qualify as a Notary Public in England and Wales it is necessary to have earned a law degree or qualified as a solicitor or barrister in the past five years, and then to take a two-year distance-learning course styled the Postgraduate Diploma in Notarial Practice. At the same time, any applicant must also gain practical experience. The few who go on to become Scrivener Notaries require further study of two foreign languages and foreign law and a two-year mentorship under an active Scrivener notary.
The other notaries in England are either ecclesiastical notaries whose functions are limited to the affairs of the Church of England or other qualified persons who are not trained as solicitors or barristers but satisfy the Master of the Faculties of the Archbishop of Canterbury that they possess an adequate understanding of the law. Both the latter two categories are required to pass examinations set by the Master of Faculties.
The regulation of notaries was modernized in the 1990s as a result of section 57 of the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990.
Notarial services generally include:
- attesting the signature and execution of documents
- authenticating the execution of documents
- authenticating the contents of documents
- administration of oaths and declarations
- drawing up or noting (and extending) protests of happenings to ships, crews and cargoes
- presenting bills of exchange for acceptance and payment, noting and protesting bills in cases of dishonour and preparing acts of honour
- attending upon the drawing up of bonds
- drawing mercantile documents, deeds, sales or purchases of property, and wills in English and (via translation), in foreign languages for use in Britain, the Commonwealth and other foreign countries
- providing documents to deal with the administration of the estate of people who are abroad, or owning property abroad
- authenticating personal documents and information for immigration or emigration purposes, or to apply to marry, divorce, adopt children or to work abroad
- verification of translations from foreign languages to English and vice versa
- taking evidence in England and Wales as a Commissioner for Oaths for foreign courts
- provision of Notarial copies
- preparing and witnessing powers of attorney, corporate records, contracts for use in Britain or overseas
- authenticating company and business documents and transactions
- international domain name transfers
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