What is a Notary?

A notary is a specialist lawyer.  In England and Wales notaries are appointed and regulated through the Faculty Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury. 

Most notaries are also solicitors but they do not have to be. Being a notary is a separate profession. Solicitors are not authorised to carry out “notarial acts” if they are not also notaries.

“Notary” or “notary public” is a protected title and only those qualified and registered can call themselves notaries. Scrivener notaries are notaries with additional qualifications and who have expertise in at least two foreign languages.

Even if a notary is also a solicitor, their website and correspondence will make clear that you are instructing them as a notary.  

The principal role of a notary in England and Wales is to “attest the authenticity” of deeds and other legal documents for use abroad.

Attesting means much more than simple certification (checking copies against the originals). If the documents have been attested by a notary it means that courts and other bodies abroad can accept them without having to make any further checks themselves. Each notary has their own seal which will be attached to the documents.

Notaries can also prepare powers of attorney, “protest” bills of exchange and offer other legal advice.

A very small number (less than 40) of notaries also deal with conveyancing and probate as notaries (as opposed to doing this work as a solicitor). This will be clear from their website.

All notaries have:

  • passed examinations (if admitted after 1985) and must keep their knowledge up to date through an annual programme of continuing professional education 
  • been supervised by an experienced notary for a number of years
  • professional indemnity insurance
  • an agreed complaints procedure

Notaries have to follow the Notaries Practice Rules 2019 and other rules and regulations. The implications of these rules and how best to follow them is set out in the Code of Practice but the fundamental principles are:

  • Integrity
  • Independence and impartiality
  • A prompt and proper standard of services
  • Ensuring the public can trust in the “office” (title) of notary
  • Proper governance and sound financial and risk management principles
  • Respect for equal opportunity and diversity