Notaries are non-contentious lawyers, meaning they do not undertake litigation work. A notarial profession exists in most parts of the world.
The scope of their work varies in each country. Notaries are important because documents signed and sealed by a notary receive international recognition and acceptance. The receiving jurisdiction can be assured that a notarial document is signed by the person they say they are, that the person has the authority and capacity to sign and that the person signing understands the meaning and effect of the document. The notary must check all these things and that is why you should be prepared to produce your passport or some other method of identification.
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.
The notarial professional is the smallest (about 800) but oldest legal profession, and it is possible to trace it’s roots to Roman Times. Until 1535, it was the Pope who granted licences to notaries in England and Wales. After the break with Rome (Henry VIII), licences were granted by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Today the notarial profession is governed by the Faculty Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury and it is the Archbishop who continues to grant licences, known as faculties. Before he is granted his faculty, a notary is required to swear allegiance to the Crown and to swear a Notarial Oath to the effect that he will not make or attest any document which might involve violence or fraud. He also has to satisfy the Faculty Office of his good character.
Within the notarial profession there are three branches. Ecclesiastical Notaries, mainly concerned with Church of England affairs. Scrivener Notaries, who operate under a Royal Charter who practice in the City of London, and finally, General Notaries, each of whom can practice anywhere in England and Wales. General Notaries are more usually known as Notaries Public.
Every notary must have an individual and identifiable seal which couple with his signature is good 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 Laws and pass a number of additional papers (including Private International Law, Notarial Practice and Roman Law).
All notaries are required to hold professional indemnity and fidelity insurance.
Every notary is required each year to apply and pay for a Practicing Certificate from the Faculty Office. Most notaries are members of the Notaries Society for which they have to pay an annual fee.
Notaries are also required to keep a protocol of all the notarial acts they make in the form of copies of the documents notarised and also a register in their own hand of what was done and any advice given.