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The Role of the Notary in England, Wales & Northern Ireland

England and Wales

International Functions
Notaries in England and Wales exercise the important public office and duty of preparing and authenticating legal documents creating or affecting rights, duties and obligations outside the United Kingdom. Their clients include Government departments and organisations, major industrial and trading companies and private individuals. Reliance is placed on the truth of the matters stated in notarial acts. In the oft-quoted words of Lord Eldon, “a notary by the law of nations has credit everywhere”. (Hutcheon-v-Mannington (1802) 6 Vesey, Jun. 823). Indeed, the faculty which a notary receives on his appointment from the Archbishop of Canterbury concludes with the words “hereby decreeing that full faith ought to be given as well in judgment as thereout to the instruments to be from time to time made by you”.

The notarial system is an integral part of the legal structure of jurisdictions founded on the civil law. Such jurisdictions include most of the United Kingdom's partners in the European Union. In those jurisdictions, the notary's intervention is necessary in order to complete many of the most important legal transactions. In England and other common law jurisdictions, the notarial system is less deeply rooted; notaries exist primarily in England to enable parties to authenticate documents or give effect to legal transactions in jurisdictions outwith the United Kingdom. This roles, although limited, is an important one and in Central London the specialised services offered by the Scrivener notaries are an important factor in the City's position as an international trading and financial centre.

Internal Functions
Apart from the important function described above, a relatively restricted range of powers, duties and privileges is reserved by the English legal system to notaries.

These include the right to:-

    a) draw or prepare conveyancing documents (see Solicitors Act 1974, s.22) including any instrument for the purposes of the Land Registration Act 1925;
    b) draw or prepare any papers or instruments to found or oppose a grant of probate or letters of administration (see Solicitors Act 1974, s.23);
    c)take oaths and statutory declarations; and
    d)note or certify transactions relating to bills of exchange and other negotiable instruments (see Bills of Exchange Act 1882, s.51)

These rights are confirmed in relation to notaries by the Legal Services Act 2007.

With the exception of the noting and certifying of transactions relating to bills of exchange and other negotiable instruments, the exercise of the rights listed above is shared by notaries with solicitors and other authorised practitioners.

The United Kingdom government has acknowledged the need for the maintenance of a notarial system in England existing in its own right alongside the other two branches of the legal profession. The Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 greatly strengthened the position of notaries within the English legal framework and the Legal Services Act 2007 fully recognises notarial activities as a discrete branch of legal practice.

General Notaries

One or more notaries may be found in all significant centres of population and commerce. The great majority practise also as solicitors. The Notaries Society through its programmes of education and support for its members maintains the standards and independence of the general notarial profession throughout England and Wales.

Scrivener Notaries

The fact that for many years only Scrivener notaries were allowed to practise within the City of London and its surrounds had the effect of allowing a skilled full-time notariat to develop in this important financial and trading centre. By virtue of their training in foreign law and languages and the familiarity acquired through practical experience of procedures in countries overseas, scrivener notaries are qualified to handle legal matters spanning various jurisdictions. They prepare and authenticate documents in foreign languages in the form used in the country in which they are to be produced.

Northern Ireland

Notaries in Northern Ireland carry out much the same functions as their colleagues in England and Wales.

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