A notary public is a lawyer authorised by the Archbishop of Canterbury in England most commonly to officially witness signatures on legal documents, collect sworn statements, administer oaths and certify the authenticity of legal documents for use overseas. Other functions include the preparation and witnessing of international contracts, deeds, wills, powers of attorney and ships’ protests.
The office of a notary public is one of great antiquity. As a notary, I hold an office which can trace its origins back to ancient Rome, when they were called scribae, notarius or tabellius. Notaries are easily the oldest continuing branch of the legal profession, existing throughout the world. My appointment is for life.
A notary public uses an embossing tool, an individual official seal, nowadays a lever press rather than hot wax and a ring or stamp! Usually a red or gold seal is affixed to all documents and permanently impressed with the notary’s seal together with details of the notary and handwritten, stamped or typed narrative either to verify their presence at the time the document was signed or to certify the document as a true copy and the original having been sighted.
When engaging a notary public, it is important to have formal identification – ideally a passport or photo driver’s licence. If the document being notarised refers to a specific identity document, the notary will need to sight that document as well, all in the interests of preventing identity theft, fraud, and forgery. A fee is payable for the services of a notary, which depends chiefly on the time involved and the importance of the task.
A second step is sometimes required. In countries subscribing to the Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement for Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents, a further act of certification is necessary, namely an Apostille. For other countries not party to the convention, an ‘authentication’ or ‘legalisation’ of the document to be sent to that country must be issued by the Embassy, Consulate-General or High Commission of that country here in New Zealand. .
Why not a local Justice of the Peace or a lawyer? Simply because both are local and have no international recognition and acceptance outside New Zealand. Only an appointed notary is recognised under the Hague Convention and internationally.
Sounds quite formal and complicated? It is, and the significance and convenience of a notary’s service is often under-appreciated given the alternative is to travel to the country concerned and sign or have certified the documents there, and that is not going to happen any time soon. There are three local notaries: Chris Hart (09 422 6699), Tony Coupe (021 729 680) and myself (0274 909 188).
David Stone LLB & Notary Public