Governance Manual

2. About the Faculty Office

2.1 What we do

The Faculty Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury has three principal functions:

  • the issue of Special Marriage Licences
  • the regulation of the Notarial profession
  • the legal work for the awarding by the Archbishop of ‘Lambeth’ Degrees

The Faculty Office is presided over by the Master of the Faculties. Day to day administration is the responsibility of the Registrar of the Court of Faculties, and is undertaken by the Chief Clerk.

The functions of the Faculty Office extend to both England and Wales (and, in the case of notaries, further afield).

The Faculty Office is located in premises used by commercial agreement with Lee Bolton Monier-Williams LLP (Solicitors) at 1 The Sanctuary, Westminster.

Enquiries regarding notaries and special licences should be sent to the Registrar of the Faculty Office rather than to the Archbishop.


2.2 Our history

The Faculty Office has its origins in the Ecclesiastical Licences Act 1533. This Act transferred to the Archbishop of Canterbury the power to grant “all maner licences, dispensacions, faculties, composicions, delegacies, rescriptes, instrumentes or wrytynges have byn accustomed to be had at the see of Rome”.

The Act created a new court – the Court of Faculties, commonly known as the Faculty Office – and provided for the appointment of a judge to preside over it.  This jurisdiction was to be administered by the Archbishop’s “comissarye” assisted by a “clerke”. The issue of Special Marriage Licences and the appointment of Notaries Public were, before the Reformation, functions carried out by the Pope or the Papal Legates. For this reason, the functions under the Act are sometimes referred to as the “legatine powers”. The powers are more constitutional than ecclesiastical in the modern sense of that word.


2.3 The Seal of the Faculty Office

This seal is attached to the ‘faculties’ which the Faculty Office issues:

  • Notarial faculties (the document which appoints a Notary)
  • Special Marriage Licences
  • Lambeth Degrees
  • Other dispensations

It has been used since the time of Archbishop Cranmer in the reign of Henry VIII.

On one side of the Seal is a representation of Moses lifting up the brazen serpent, with the motto ‘Mundus transit’ and the Arms of the See of Canterbury.

The reverse side shows a representation of Christ’s crucifixion with St John. In Latin is a quotation from St John’s Gospel (Chapter 17 verse 3), which translates as: ‘And this is life eternal: that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent’.

One side is thus symbolic of the other: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” (St John Chapter 3 verse 14)


2.4 Our approach

A Notary Public is a legal officer of ancient standing. The functions of notaries include the preparation and execution of legal documents for use abroad, attesting the authenticity of deeds and writings, and protesting bills of exchange. Notaries in England and Wales may also provide any non-contentious legal service, including conveyancing and probate activities. 

There are two membership organisations for notaries, the Notaries’ Society and the Society of Scrivener Notaries.  They have representative functions only and are not part of the Faculty Office.

Although the Faculty Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury regulates notaries (and the ‘faculty’ appointing a notary is issued in the name of the Archbishop), a notary is a secular lawyer and is not otherwise associated with the Archbishop or the Church of England.

The admission and regulation of Notaries Public in England and Wales is one of the functions of the Faculty Office.

The Faculty Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury also maintains jurisdiction for the appointment (and partial regulation) of notaries in certain overseas jurisdictions.


2.5 Legislative background

The Master of the Faculties (the judge who presides over the Faculty Office) is the approved regulator of the notarial profession.

This jurisdiction regarding the notarial profession was confirmed and enhanced by the Courts and Legal Services Act of 1990 and the Legal Services Act 2007. Both confirmed the Master’s statutory powers to make Rules for the regulation of the profession.


2.6 Regulatory oversight

The Legal Services Act 2007 confirms the Legal Services Board as the oversight regulator for a variety of approved regulators, including the Faculty Office.