What is a Notary?
A notary or notary public is a member of the legal profession whose primary function is to deal with the authentication of documents for use abroad. The status of a notary is recognised throughout the world.
Notaries form the smallest part of the legal profession in the United Kingdom. Whilst there are approximately 140,000 solicitors and 16,000 barristers, there are fewer than 1,000 notaries.
The office of notary is an ancient one, going back to the Middle Ages. For historical reasons notaries are regulated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, through his Faculty Office.
Notaries deal with documents such as powers of attorney, sworn affidavits, declarations and copy degree and other certificates for use in foreign countries. To be valid abroad these frequently require to be “notarised”, i.e. authenticated by a notary. The notary may need to liaise with the client’s foreign lawyer regarding any points in the document which need clarifying, and if the document is in a foreign language may need to obtain a translation.
The notary’s duty is to verify the identity of each client, check that the client has legal capacity and that he or she understands the nature of the document in question and is willing to enter into it.
Once satisfied on these points the notary affixes his notarial seal to the signed document, which then becomes a “notarial act”. A duly sealed notarial act is recognised throughout the world as being an authentic document signed by a person whose identity has been properly verified, and as such can be relied on without question by foreign lawyers and organisations.
In some cases the document also has to be “legalised”. This is a process whereby the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and sometimes the embassy of the relevant foreign country, confirm that the notary who has notarised the document is an officially recognised notary. Generally speaking documents intended for Commonwealth countries and some parts of the United States do not require legalisation.