The Notary Public in England and Wales
In England and Wales, a notary public provides certification and authentication of documents so that they can be relied on by contracting parties, public authorities, and others abroad.
Unlike a civil law notary in, say, France, the common law notaries of England and Wales don’t have a function in transactions under domestic law. They are a separate branch of the legal profession (alongside solicitors and barristers) and are, for historic reasons, regulated by the Faculty Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury (although there is no religious element to the role). Notaries have their own practise rules. The qualification requirements are stringent, although certain exemptions apply for those who are qualified in one of the other branches. It is common for a solicitor to act as a notary alongside his or her day to day work.
Because notaries, in essence, provide a guarantee of the authenticity of a document, they will have stringent requirements as to the identification of the party whose documents or signature they are certifying and will also need to be satisfied regarding understanding and capacity and the absence of duress or undue influence. Normally, the client will need to be physically present to have a document notarized. Where a company is entering into a document, the notary will also need to see evidence of the proper and express authorisation of the signatory to act on the company’s behalf.
Examples of clients needing the services of a notary public include a company incorporating an overseas subsidiary, a participant in a public tender, individuals applying for foreign citizenship or visas, buyers or sellers of overseas property (including as part of the administration of a deceased’s affairs), and the execution of foreign wills or powers of attorney.
A frequent additional requirement is that the notary’s certificate be ‘legalised’. The UK government will provide a certification (known as an apostille), and countries that are parties to the Hague Apostille Convention will recognise the apostille directly. Countries that are not parties to the Convention will require a further certificate from their own consulate. The process for consular legalisation can be complex, and your notary can arrange suitable advice on this.
The notarisation process generally takes a few days from start to finish. As well as time spent going through identification checks and collating the supporting documents, in complex cases, the precise form of certificate may need to be negotiated between the notary and the lawyer in the jurisdiction where the document is required. An apostille can be obtained from the UK FCDO on the same day (on payment of the fee for the premium service), plus allowance for delivery time to the Legalisation Office and back.