What is a Notary Public?

What is a Notary Public?

The main functions of a notary public are to administer oaths and affirmations, take affidavits and statutory declarations, witness and authenticate the execution of certain classes of documents, take acknowledgments of deeds and other conveyances, protest notes and bills of exchange, provide notice of foreign drafts, prepare marine protests in cases of damage, provide exemplifications and notarial copies and perform certain other official acts depending on the jurisdiction.

Any such act is known as a notarisation. The term notary public only refers to common-law notaries and should not be confused with civil-law notaries.

Notarial services generally include:

  • attesting the signature and execution of documents
  • authenticating the execution of documents
  • authenticating the contents of documents
  • administration of oaths and declarations
  • drawing up or noting (and extending) protests of happenings to ships, crews and cargoes
  • presenting bills of exchange for acceptance and payment, noting and protesting bills in cases of dishonour and preparing acts of honour
    attending upon the drawing up of bonds
  • providing documents to deal with the administration of the estate of people who are abroad, or owning property abroad
  • authenticating personal documents and information for immigration or emigration purposes, or to apply to marry, divorce, adopt children or to work abroad
    verification of translations from foreign languages to English and vice versa
  • taking evidence in England and Wales as a Commissioner for Oaths for foreign courts
  • provision of Notarial copies
  • preparing and witnessing powers of attorney, corporate records, contracts for use in Britain or overseas
  • authenticating company and business documents and transactions
  • international domain name transfers

Notarial Certification

Documents which are to be used overseas often need to be prepared or certified by a notary. Notaries are authorised to prepare and certify many different types of document and there are different procedures to be followed for different countries. Notaries can advise on the various requirements of foreign jurisdictions. Where appropriate documents and notarial certificates can be prepared in foreign languages.

Powers of attorney, bills of sale, mortgages and other deeds form a special category under English law and we can advise on the particular procedures to be followed.

For less formal documents, certification of the signature on a document may be sufficient, but often the authorities in the country where the document is to be used will have particular requirements.

Notaries may also certify copies and translations of documents (see “legal translation” below).

I am happy to attend on clients personally to oversee the execution of documents requiring notarial attestation, and many major institutions and companies find this the most effective way of dealing with their notarial requirements. Clients are also welcome to attend in person at my office.

Legalisation and Apostilles

Frequently, once a document has been notarised, some further formalities must be undertaken before it can be sent overseas, generally either in the form of consular legalisation (often referred to simply as “consularisation”) or an apostille.

An apostille is a certificate issued by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office confirming the signature and seal of the notary and this procedure is accepted in an increasing number of countries.

However, some countries still require notarial documents to be legalised and the document must in these circumstances be presented to the consulate or other diplomatic representation of the country where the document is to be used.

Tenders, Bond and Debenture Operations

Notaries are frequently called upon to supervise the opening of tenders for large international contracts to ensure “fair play”.

Notaries may also be called upon to witness or carry out drawings or other operations relating to foreign bonds and debenture stock, and proceedings such as ballots for share issues where the presence of a notary is required in order to ensure that matters are conducted in a proper and impartial manner.

Affidavits and Declarations

Notaries are authorised to administer oaths and to take declarations.

Affidavits are used for the purpose of giving written evidence in judicial proceedings.

Where the execution of deeds or other facts has to be proved otherwise than in court, the proof may be made by means of a statutory declaration.

We can advise on the correct form of affidavit or statutory declaration for particular purposes and, if necessary, draw these up for our clients.


  • Private individuals – If you wish me to communicate with or receive instructions from anyone apart from you specific written authority is required and can only be terminated by written notice.
  • Others – In the case of companies or other organisations unless you clearly indicate otherwise I will be free to accept instructions from anyone within your organisation who appears to have authority.
  • Unless otherwise agreed I will communicate either by email or post as appropriate.