ANZCN Practice Note – Dealing with Foreign Documents

The Australian and New Zealand College of Notaries has circulated a Practice Note prepared by Prof. Peter Zablud and Michael Bula (20 April 2017) concerning the treatment by Australian Notaries of “authentic form notarial acts” drafted in civil law jurisdictions such as France, Germany, Italy or Spain. This type of notarial act will take the form of a “single narrative instrument written by the notary in the first person which sets out or perfects a legal obligation and/or records some fact or thing.” [p. 1 ¶ 2] This authentic form recalls what is known in the New South Wales notarial practice as a “notarial act in the private form”, i.e. a document that is wholly drafted by the public notary himself.

The Practice Note states that the authentic form of the notarial act is at the core of the civil law country’s legal system. Accordingly, there are very precise rules and regulations governing the manner in which notaries conduct their practice and provide their services. A notary must “certify in the notarial act itself that the Appearers well understand the transaction(s), their rights and obligations and in appropriate cases, the consequences of not meeting specific obligations.” [p. 1 ¶ 6] France is cited as an example, which has the following requirements for the drawing of a proper and valid notarisation:

  • The document must be read to the relevant parties or their legal representatives (the “Appearers”).
  • The applicable law must be explained to the Appearers.
  • Any questions that the Appearers ask of the notary must be answered.

The point being stressed by Prof. Zablud and Bula is that “failure by a notary to meet his or her responsibilities or to comply with prescribed formalities can render an entire transaction null and void.” [p. 1 ¶ 7]

Example: Foreign Power of Attorney— Authentic Form — Australian Notary Witnessed Signature — Did not Comply with Foreign Legal Requirements — Notarial Act Defective — Set Aside

The Practice Note illustrates how a local notary’s mishandling of a notarial act can lead to serious legal consequences for his client. An example involves a power of attorney drafted by a French notaire but which was presented to an Australian notary who was not familiar with the French language. The purpose of the document was to secure a guarantee for a loan on the purchase of property in France. The Australian public notary merely witnessed the signature of his client as it was applied to the document. He did not, however, know that the document was in the authentic form nor what that entailed. As a consequence, the document was not read to the client, its particulars were not discussed with the client, and the local notary did not execute the document as the author of the notarial act. The bank sought to enforce the guarantee after a default in a payment for the property. In a dispute over the validity of the guarantee, the French civil court held that the guarantee (and therefore the mortgage) ought to be set aside for being defective.

Important Lessons:

Reflecting on the example cited above, the Practice Note warns that Australian public notaries should be wary when they are presented with foreign language documents that they may not understand; these document may import specific legal obligations that might not be immediately apparent to the local practitioner. Moreover, in the event that an Australian notary public is asked to witness a power of attorney or other like document, he should ascertain beyond any doubt whether that document is drafted in the authentic (public) or private form, and precisely what he can or should do. Suggested steps include:

  • Contact the drafter of the document and make direct inquiries about its nature. The local notary can request whether or not the document can be redrafted in private form, thus allowing it to be notarised by way of a notarial certificate followed by an apostille or legalisation.
  • Have the document translated by an accredited translator.
  • If still in doubt about one’s own legal obligations, refer the client to a consular officer of the country in which the document, once notarised, is to be used, or a lawyer who is fluent in the language in which the document is drafted. [p. 2 passim]

For more general information on related issues, see the following sections on our website:

NB: The above is a summary and interpretation of the Practice Note. For a complete copy of the Practice Note, readers are strongly encouraged to contact the Australian and New Zealand College of Notaries directly.

Should you need a foreign power of attorney notarised by a Sydney Notary Public, you are welcome to contact us for more information on how we can help having your documentation executed properly. Services can be provided to you directly in the Sydney CBD region and surrounding suburbs, including Broadway and Surry Hills. A Public Notary can also come to you if you or your business is located in the north shore, including North Sydney, Artarmon, Kirribilli, St Leonards, Lane Cove, Chatswood, Willoughby and surrounds. For more on our availability, see our Availability page.

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