What Is a Notary Public and What Services Do They Provide?

The concept of a  Notary Services public varies around the world by is most commonly understood as being an ‘international justice of the peace’ or a person that verifies documents for use in jurisdictions which are foreign to where the notary is practicing. The original institution of the notary probably goes as far back in time as ancient Rome when seals became a common way of identifying a person in a unique way and their approval or verification of the contents of a document.

The earliest time in history which the institution of a notary was first evidenced saw the Emperor of the Holy Roman empire as the person with responsibility for the appointment of notaries. Later on, this became the prerogative of the Pope as leader of the catholic church. There were a range developments in various countries in relation to the institution of the notary, however, they did develop as an identifiable institution in both civil and common law countries.

In the English tradition, notaries remained in appointment prerogative of the Archbishop of Cantebury under the auspices of the Pope until this power was assumed by the King of England and what was known as the Court of Faculties. The legislation which created this institution of the notary in England was termed the Ecclesiastical Licences Act of 1533. Ostensibly the reason for the removal of this function from ecclesiastical government was that the church was extracting massive amounts of money for licenses which was essentially unfair.

Civil law notaries tend to have a much larger role than their common law counterparts. They may be fairly compared to a solicitor in the common law tradition because they generally focus on non-contentious work. They provide advice on legal regulation in relation to property law, conveyancing and the administration of wills and estates. They also verify documents for use in countries overseas as their common law counterparts do. Generally, a civil law notary will be trained as a lawyer with an undergraduate degree as well as a post graduate degree in notarial law. They are specialists in private law being the law that regulates the relationships between private parties. They are generally not trained in advocacy or the adversarial elements of the law. Common law notaries have a different function which is more limited. They generally are restricted to the verification of international documents and certifying the identity of various persons, noting and protesting bills of exchange and shipping related work.

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