HCR Law Events

25 February 2021

Specialist skills supporting overseas trade and links – the work of a notary public

You will have heard the term ‘notary public’ and perhaps been aware that it was something legal, but what do they do and who are they? We have our own in the Wye Valley office – Jenny Staples tells us all about her role.

A notary public is a qualified lawyer who holds an internationally recognised public office for the verification of documents and information intended to be used abroad.  It is one of the oldest branches of the legal profession, dating back to Roman times, and notaries are now appointed by the Court of Faculties of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

In England and Wales, notaries are usually needed when dealing with overseas matters. Their primary role is the preparation, validation, authentication and/or certification of documents and transactions under an official seal, in order for them to be accepted in countries outside the UK.  They will authenticate and certify the signature(s) to the documents and the authority and capacity of such signatories, either for individuals or private companies.

The most common tasks are:

  • preparing and authenticating powers of attorney for use outside the UK
  • dealing with the purchase or sale of land and property outside the UK
  • providing documents to deal with the administration of the estate of people who are abroad, or who own property abroad
  • providing documents for the purposes of foreign pensions
  • authenticating personal documents and information for immigration or emigration purposes, or to apply to marry or work abroad
  • authenticating education or professional qualifications for use outside the UK
  • authenticating company and business documents and transactions
  • providing certificates as to the status of a company or the identity of its directors.

Documents handled by a notary are known as ‘notarial acts’; the notary will sign and seal the relevant documents. They must verify, for each client, their identity, legal capacity and understanding of the document as well as their authority if signing on behalf of another party such as a limited company


Once a notary has done this, the documents may require legalisation; that will depend on the requirements of the country in which the document is intended for use.  The process is not needed for most countries which are or have been part of the British Commonwealth nor for many parts of the United States; it involves the notary’s signature and seal being authenticated further, including by the Foreign Office with a certificate called an apostille.

Some countries will want a further certificate from their own embassy too, and other procedures may be needed in a few cases.

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