Notaries represent the oldest (and smallest) branch of the legal profession. A Notary is a qualified lawyer whose task it is to certify documents and transactions so that they can be effective in countries outside the England & Wales.
Many Notaries provide a service for commercial firms engaged in international trade, and for private individuals. The most common tasks are:
What else can Notaries do?
Most Notaries act in that capacity to provide the sort of services already described, but they can also provide authentication and a secure record for almost any sort of transaction, document or event. Also as a member of the oldest legal profession in England and Wales, a Notary can do any form of legal work except for taking cases to court. The authority of a Notary is derived both from statute and from the Faculty granted to him by the Court of Faculties. The Faculty enables a notary to perform Notarial acts in the public (or authentic) form recognised in civil law jurisdictions as well as in the private form which is accepted in England and Wales and other common law jurisdictions. A Notarial Faculty states that full force and effect should be given to all instruments (including acts in both the public or private form) made by a Notary. The Notarial profession in England and Wales is best understood from a historical perspective. Until 1533 Notaries were appointed on papal authority by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Following the break from Rome, appointments continued to be made by the Archbishop of Canterbury - but on the authority of the Crown. The Archbishop's jurisdiction was, and is, exercised through one of the oldest of the English court's - the Court of Faculties, now physically located at the Precinct adjoining Westminster Abbey in London. The Court is presided over by the Master of the Faculties who is the most senior ecclesiastical judge and commonly also a judge of the Supreme Court. Since 1801 the appointment and regulation of Notaries has been underpinned by statutes enacted by Parliament.
All Notaries have a distinctive seal - often illustrated with professional or historical signs. In addition notarial acts are prepared in established forms which can easily be understood and recognised wherever they are produced, and which may, in many jurisdictions, carry significant weight in courts and registries. Just as Notaries certify documents and transactions so they in turn are certified by the legalisation process which is described elsewhere. Where a Notarial act is for use overseas, it is commonly a requirement that a notary's execution of the act is further witnessed through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (also known as the "FCO", who are representing the State in doing so) who will add an 'Apostille' or certificate confirming the authenticity of the Notary's signature and seal both of which are registered with the FCO. The process is called 'legalisation' and may be further authenticated by the consulate of the receiving jurisdiction. In certain cases further legalisation or 'supra-legalisation' may be required. This is where a further step may be required at a Consulate e.g. if a document is for the UAE, Notarial certification, the FCO apostille and UAE Consular legalisation.