Notaries can carry out a broad range of legal activities including Conveyancing and Probate work, but a central part of the Notary’s role is the validation or authentication of legal documents for use in other parts of the world and providing documentary evidence in the form of a Notarial Certificate which may be used or required by a foreign Court or official body.
Witnessing Your Signature (attestation) Before a Notary can witness your signature to a document, he has to be satisfied with:
- Your identity. Please bring your passport and a recent utility bill. This is usually conclusive proof that you are who you say you are! If you do not have a current passport, some other document may suffice, e.g. your driving licence. If the document declares that you are married, you should produce your marriage certificate as evidence of your marriage.
- Your legal capacity. i.e. that you are over the age of 18 and not subject to any disability that might affect the transaction.
- Your authority, if you are acting on someone else’s behalf. This authority could be a Power of Attorney or a company appointment.
- Your understanding of the document to be signed and your willingness to be bound by it. This can be difficult if the document produced is in a foreign language with no English translation. In these cases, you must be able to satisfy the Notary that you have sufficient grasp of the foreign language to know what you are signing and that you know the basic legal purpose for which the document is intended. You may be asked to sign a note about this which will be entered into the Notary’s records. If you do not understand the document, it may be necessary to have it translated.
If your transaction is urgent, it is helpful if you can bring, or email, to the Notary any document to be notarised twenty-four hours or so in advance. Notaries have to keep records and copies of documents they handle and this will give time for the copies to be made.
It is not the Notary’s responsibility to advise you about the law of the country where the document is to be used, nor about the legal effect of the document in that country. The Notary only has to be satisfied that you have sufficient awareness to be able to understand what you are signing. If he is not satisfied, the Notary may refuse to act.
Apostille is a certificate issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office stating that the Notary’s signature and seal have been registered there. This helps prevent forgery. Many documents for use in Europe and in some states in the USA require Apostille as otherwise they are deemed invalid. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office charges fees for legalisation.
Consent to a child travelling and leaving the UK
This is an area of the law fraught with difficulty and risk. Notaries are often asked to witness signatures for documents allowing one parent / another member of the family or even someone who is completely unrelated to the family, to take a child abroad for a holiday or for some other educational or social purpose. These situations require the Notary to be very careful to ensure that there is no legal restriction on the child leaving the country such as a Court order. Usually, a child, even one subject to Court order, may be taken abroad for a holiday for a period of less than one month without restriction but at the other end of the scale, there may be suspicious circumstances or even child abduction.
As a result of recent guidance, I will no longer sign consent to travel forms unless  I am shown the original of the child’s birth certificate  that the child, if old enough, is brought in to the office so that I may ask questions directly and  that the client agrees to the following words being added to the consent form:
“This document was signed by the above named [parent] before me, s/he has identified her/himself to me by the production of acceptable identification documents not only for her/himself but also on behalf of the child. In addition, I have personally interviewed the child to ascertain the circumstances.
However this certificate is not a warranty or confirmation that the [parent] has the legal authority to permit the removal of the child from the UK or that the child is free of any restriction against leaving the UK and it relates solely to the authentication of the signature of the appearing parent before me today as mother/father of the said child agreeing to such child being in the company of the other parent or the designated third party and travelling with that person abroad.”
As a Notary Public, Chris Handforth is separately registered with the Information Commissioners office under ref: ZA052390.
Please note that following a direction by the Council of the Notaries Society of England & Wales on 26th January 2017, every transaction between a client and a Notary Public that involves signing a document requires that there shall be a personal appearance i.e. a face to face meeting. Witnessing signature of a document via a videoconference, Skype session or similar is expressly disapproved as good practice as it may prevent the notary from establishing core facts that are essential such as the informed and free consent of the client to the transaction. In all cases, there will need to be a personal appearance by the client even if there has been a history of previous transactions.
This direction only applies where documents are signed. It does not prevent the Notary advising or otherwise assisting a client remotely by live link.
As a Notary Public, Chris Handforth is regulated by the Faculty Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
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