What Is A Notary Public?
Martin Tomsett, a notary public practising in Winchester (www.tomsett-notary.co.uk), answers questions about his profession.
What is a notary public?
A notary public is a qualified lawyer, subject to rules similar to those governing solicitors and regulated – since the Reformation – by the Court of Faculties (itself attached to the Archbishop of Canterbury). Like a solicitor, a notary public must have full professional indemnity and fidelity insurance cover in order to practise.
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So is this the oldest profession?
Not quite, but it goes back a long way. There were notaries in ancient Rome, responsible for recording court proceedings and drawing-up documents. Although there is evidence of notaries writing and witnessing royal charters from the 10th century onwards, it was only after the 13th century that the profession of notary public developed in England.
What does a notary public do?
Most of a notary public’s work entails legally validating and certifying signatures on documents which are going to be used abroad – in court proceedings, for example, or in private legal matters, such as property transactions and successions. A notary public may also be asked to prepare and witness powers of attorney for individuals or companies, to prepare certificates of due execution of documents or simply to certify that copies of documents are true copies. A notary’s knowledge of foreign legal requirements and some linguistic ability is always useful.
Why can’t a solicitor do that?
Most countries outside the UK do not accept documents which have been validated or signed by a solicitor (though it’s always sensible to check as some do and this may be a less expensive option). Certainly, documents which are going to be used in most European countries will only be accepted as effective if they are both notarised and legalised. Solicitors should certainly be aware of this.
What is legalisation?
Legalisation is official confirmation that the notary’s signature and seal or stamp on a document are genuine. Most notarised documents which are to be used in countries outside the Commonwealth have to be legalised. This is done by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (www.fco.gov.uk/en/about-us/what-we-do/services-we-deliver/legal-services/legalisation/) which attaches an internationally recognised certificate called an ‘Apostille’. A further certificate from the embassy or consulate of the country concerned may also be required. I have recently notarised documents for China and the UAE – both insist on further certification by their respective embassies. Usually, legalisation will be arranged by the notary public through the post.
How do I find a notary public?
There are about 1,000 notaries public in England and Wales: the majority are members of The Notaries’ Society (www.thenotariessociety.org.uk) and are listed under ‘Find a Notary’.
How much does notarisation cost?
In common with solicitors, the fees notaries public charge depends on the time it takes them to do the work, though most charge a standard fee for basic transactions. They should always provide a quote or best estimate before seeing a client. For legalisation, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office currently charges £28.80 per document, but embassy and consulate charges vary substantially, and all these charges are higher for urgent legalisation.
How about job satisfaction?
For me, the satisfaction comes from personal contact with clients, dealing with foreign lawyers when the need arises, getting to know more about the legal requirements of other countries and using my language skills when I can. Also the sheer variety of work – no two jobs are alike.
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