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The United Kingdom is a unitary State comprising England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

By virtue of the constitutional establishment of the United Kingdom the respective legal systems of the constituent countries have been maintained and are enshrined in statute (Act of Union 1707).

The distinctive nature of the legal systems is well known – England and Wales and Northern Ireland are common law jurisdictions, Scotland is a Roman law based system with common law influences. Separate court structures and legal professions as well as distinctive laws ensure the preservation of the individual legal traditions.

Schedule A, Parts 1-3 contains a brief history of the development of the notarial profession in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

In countries whose legal systems derive from the Roman civil law as modified by the Napoleonic code (continental Europe, Latin America, French-speaking Africa, especially - hereafter called “civil law countries”), the notary has a much more prominent role than in the United Kingdom and within each civil law country is the lawyer primarily responsible for non-contentious legal work; contentious work, on the other hand, is handled by advocates. Until recent years, notaries in civil law countries handled very little international work, but the demands of international commerce have resulted in a greater involvement of notaries in this area. In the context of his role as a public certifying and authentic acting officer the notary has been principally concerned with creating legal instruments, especially in the fields of conveyancing, inheritance and family law in general. In many civil-law countries, notaries are the primary legal professionals handling the incorporation of companies and other legal entities; they also handle many other business-law matters.

The civil codes of all true civil law countries have conferred a special evidentiary status on notarial acts known variously as “authenticity” or “public faith”. This has meant that the statements of fact made by a notary in a written instrument are receivable in court as evidence of the facts recorded and that those statements are irrebuttable unless a litigating party brings a special plea alleging fraud or forgery. Because of the common law's traditional preference (now much eroded by statute and rule of court) for obtaining evidence by the examination of witnesses on oath in open court and the development of the rule against hearsay as it affects documentary proof, the notarial act and notarial evidence have now always in the past been accorded the same status of “authenticity” in common law jurisdictions. Rule 32.30 of the Supreme Court of England and Wales County Court of England and Wales Civil Procedures (Amendment No. 3) Rules 2005 now confirms that Notarial Acts or Instruments do have full probative force and so are Authentic Acts. Scots law, with its part civil law derivation, has always accorded an element of probativity to notarial acts which goes some way towards adoption of the “public faith” principle.

Since its foundation in 1992 as a body for discussion and co-operation in the important area of notarial practice, the United Kingdom Notarial Forum has consistently advocated the enactment of legislation confirming the accordance of public faith to notarial acts issued anywhere in the United Kingdom since it believes that the use, which need not be obligatory, of notarial evidence is capable of greatly enhancing the efficacy of business transactions (particularly in the computer age), providing some benefits in the administration of civil justice (by reducing areas of conflict) and ultimately assisting harmonisation of the status of legal documents throughout the European Union and thereby enabling the free circulation of such documents within the Union. The Forum's goal was achieved in 2005 when the Civil Procedure Rules regulating the conduct of proceedings in the High Court of England and Wales were amended to confirm the probative force of Notarial Acts.

Republic of Ireland

Ireland, or in the Irish language Eire, formerly part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, is a sovereign, independent, democratic state. It is a republic with a written constitution, Bunreacht na hEireann (1937) as now amended. Republic of Ireland is the description of the State.

The principal source of law is the Consitution. Ireland is also governed by the principles of common law. The decisions of the superior courts in Ireland constitute an important source of Irish law, as do the decisions of the English courts or record made prior to 1922 – the year in which Ireland ceased to be part of the United Kingdom. While decisions of the English courts of record made after 1922 have no binding authority in the Irish courts, they are regarded as possessing persuasive authority.

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