The role of the notary public

Posted: 15th April 2014

A notary public can be defined as an officer of the law to whom authority has been given by the state to prepare, attest and certify legal documents.

The role notaries play in their corresponding legal systems vary worldwide depending on the jurisdiction in which they are found, but in England and Wales a notary public mainly acts in relation to documents to be used in another country or jurisdiction. By certifying the content of (or facts pertaining to) the documents presented to him, a notary renders them acceptable for use in the jurisdiction for which they are destined.

In England and Wales Notaries Public are appointed and regulated by the Court of Faculties of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The vast majority of notaries in England and Wales are solicitors, who augment their practice as solicitors with notarial work. However, some notaries restrict themselves to practicing solely as notaries, and nowhere else is this found more than in London. The City’s unique position as a trading hub for Europe has led to a huge demand over the centuries for London-based notarial services.

The Scrivener Notary

The demand for notarial services in London has been traditionally met by Scrivener Notaries. With roots stretching as far back as 1373, Scrivener Notaries (previously known as the Mysterie of the Writers of the Court Letter) were at one point the only legal professionals authorised to prepare legal documents in the City of London, and until 1999 were the only kind of notaries public in London allowed to practice within three miles of the limits of the City of London.

Scrivener Notaries continue to this day to supply notarial services in London, and as part of their qualification are rigorously examined in civil law and two foreign languages.

The Work of a Notary

The notary’s job, in spite of popular conceptions, is much more than just a case of giving a stamp of authority and a florid signature. Notaries public in London, and across the country, must carry out rigorous assessments to ensure that the statements made in their notarial certifications and public form documents are correct (as they will be relied upon by the public at large).

The checks a notary will have to carry out in order to verify a document vary widely depending on what the document’s purpose is, who is signing it, and the capacity in which they sign. At the very least, a notary will need to be presented with proof of identity in order to ascertain that the person signing a document is who they purport to be, and then satisfy him or herself that the signatory has mental capacity to execute the document. Where persons act on behalf of companies, partnerships, trusts, or other entities, further investigations into their authority to do so will generally be required.

The demand that a company has for notarial services will depend largely on the amount of business they do overseas. If a company has a presence in numerous jurisdictions, they will be invariably asked to have documents “notarised”.

Having a provider of notarial services in London which is attuned not only to the requirements of numerous jurisdictions worldwide, but also to the structure of a company and way in which it organises itself will ensure that the client’s needs are met as quickly and efficiently as possible. This is essential in the fast-moving environment of modern commerce, particularly given that, unfortunately, the notarisation of documents is often the last thing to be considered in cross-border transactions and, as a consequence, tight deadlines are often faced.


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