Notary Public – the oldest legal profession in the world

Notary Public – The Oldest Legal Profession in the World

The Notary public forms the oldest branch of the legal profession. Their origins can be traced back to the Romans.

What does a notary do?

A notary prepares Notarial Acts, including authentic acts, mainly being documents executed in Jersey for use everywhere else in the world.

There are two basic types of notarial act; those in private form and those in public form, which are authentic acts/instruments.

The private form applies when a notary annexes a notarial certificate by way of authentication of a document and its contents, thus converting it into a notarial act.

The public form is an Authentic Act/Instrument drafted by a notary, which includes verification of identity, legal capacity and understanding of the document and awareness of the contents, confirming authority to enter into the transaction, for example, in the case of a corporate body.

The notary also authenticates the contents, after verifying the same. As officers of the law and holders of the Public Office of the notary public, the duties of notaries public are wide ranging and include the preparation and drawing up of private and public authentic Acts and Instruments under their signatures and official seal, which are accepted and recognised throughout the world.

The official seal of the notary

A notary holds an official seal and Notarial Acts in Jersey have probative force. Notarial Acts under the signature and seal of a notary are recognised as evidence of a responsible official legal officer in all countries of the world. ‘A Notarial Act or Instrument may be received in evidence without further proof as duly authenticated in accordance with the requirements of the law unless the contrary is proved.’

Appointment of notaries

Since the Ecclesiastical Licences Act 1533, created by the Court of Faculties, notaries have practised under the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Jersey Notaries are regulated by the Court of Faculties and the Faculty Office, which is presided over by the highest ecclesiastical Judge, the Master, who is often a Judge of the High Court of England and Wales.

Notaries abroad

In essence, notaries fall into three categories: Commonwealth notaries or former British Commonwealth notaries, Civil Law notaries and USA type notaries.

Firstly, Commonwealth or former British Commonwealth notaries are more akin to those in Jersey, in that they are legally qualified lawyers who are principally involved in the preparation and completion of Notarial Acts and Instruments for use abroad.

Secondly, Civil Law notaries are much more central to the legal processes in their countries. In mainland Europe and most parts of the Americas (notable exceptions being the USA and all Canadian provinces except Québec) most countries have legal systems based on the Code Napoléon, into which the role of the notary is deeply embedded.

Thirdly and lastly, USA type notaries are, for the most part, not legally qualified and are merely state appointed officers, who certify identification.

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