What is a Notary

A Notary is a qualified lawyer – a member of the third and oldest branch of the legal profession in England and Wales. Notaries are appointed by the Court of Faculties of the Archbishop of Canterbury and are subject to regulation by the Master of the Faculties. The rules which affect Notaries are very similar to the rules which affect Solicitors.

They must be fully insured and maintain fidelity cover for the protection of their clients and the public. They must keep clients’ money separately from their own and comply with stringent practice rules and rules relating to conduct and discipline. Notaries have to renew their practising certificates every year and can only do so if they have complied with the rules.

Notaries are primarily concerned with the authentication and certification of signatures, authority and capacity relating to documents for use abroad. They are also authorised to conduct general legal practice (excluding the conduct of court proceedings) such as conveyancing and probate. They may exercise the powers of a Commissioner for Oaths.

The majority of Notaries Public also practise as solicitors but the Scrivener Notaries do not, nor do some 150 of the general notaries.

The Faculty Office
The Faculty Office is the administrative body of which the Master of the Faculties is head. Part of its responsibilities is the governance of the notaries. The Registrar of the Faculty Office oversees the training and qualification of notaries, has the responsibility for issuing the faculty and the annual practising certificate which, together, enable them to practise.

What a Notary Does

Most notaries act in that capacity to provide the sort of services already described, but they can also provide authentication and a secure record for almost any sort of transaction, document or event.

Notaries are specifically authorised to carry out certain Reserved Activities under the Legal Services Act 2007 and can do any form of legal work except any contentious matter or taking cases to court.

Approximately half of notaries are also solicitors and do their general legal work in that capacity. Others (including the Scrivener Notaries in London) practise only as notaries undertaking commercial and property work (including conveyancing) and family and private client work (including wills, probate and the administration of estates).

Many notaries provide a service for commercial firms engaged in international trade, and for private individuals. The most common tasks include:

  • Preparing and authenticating powers of attorney for use overseas
  • Dealing with purchase or sale of land and property abroad
  • Authenticating foreign wills and providing documents to deal with the administration of the estates of people who are abroad, or owning property abroad
  • Authenticating personal documents and information for immigration or emigration purposes, or to apply to marry or to work abroad, such as education or professional qualifications or declarations of freedom to marry
  • Authenticating company and business documents and transactions or providing certificates as to the status of a company or the identity of its directors


Legalisation is the process by which the signature and seal of the Notary are authenticated by the Foreign Office and/or the Embassy or Consulate of the country in which the document is to be used.

This is generally required by countries who are signatories to the Hague Convention. Legalisation requirements are determined only by the country where the document is going, not by the UK government.

Documents going to countries which are, or have been, part of the British Commonwealth seldom need legalisation nor, at present, do documents going to many parts of the United States.

Many countries require only one certificate from the Foreign Office called an Apostille and this costs £30.00 per document. Your Notary may charge an additional fee for dealing with this aspect.

The Foreign Office is located in Milton Keynes (see below) but a Premium Service for business users only with a 24-hour turnaround is available in London at a cost of £75 per document (plus courier fees).

Some countries want the Apostille from the Foreign Office and a further certificate from their own Embassy. This will take longer. There are other procedures that apply only to a few countries, and there can be problems if a document is to be used in a country with which the United Kingdom does not have diplomatic relations.

Foreign Law & Languages

Some notaries speak foreign languages and may be familiar with certain foreign legal systems, but not all of them do.

Your document may be in a language you do not understand or have to do with a foreign legal system you do not know about.

Your notary must be sure that you and s/he understand both the document and each other, and know what effect the document will have when it goes abroad. Your notary cannot simply take your word for it.

Your notary may have to insist that it is properly translated into English, or that a qualified interpreter is present at your interview. Your notary may need both.

You will have to pay for these extra services. The cost varies according to the length and complexity of the document and the language involved.