Problems with Clients Based Overseas

As has been mentioned in previous Practice Notes, notaries are not obligated at take work from prospective clients. Indeed, notaries should be wary of clients who ask for services where the objective or purpose of the notarisation is uncertain or may be a cause for suspicion. A recent client who approached NotarialServices.com with a request for professional assistance related to an overseas legal matter is an example of problems that may arise when taking on a client who is not entirely forthcoming.

Basic Facts:

  • The client was a law firm incorporated overseas, which was engaged in litigation the details of which they were reluctant to disclose to the notary.
  • The client requested that the notary provide a notarial certificate in the public form in which the notary were to declare the veracity of a purported fact.
  • The purported fact was that an overseas company acquired certain interests of another company which had an office located in Australia.
  • Information that the client supplied to the notary included a number of voluminous documents including company reports and press releases in which the acquisition as referenced, as well as an ASIC search on the local company showing its details.
  • The notary indicated that he would have to engage in an investigation to ascertain the veracity of the alleged acquisition; he provided a quote for his services capped at a low rate. The client accepted this quote.
  • Investigations were conducted, however the notary was not able to decisively and conclusively state that the acquisition as purported by the client and as described in the documents provided took place: the fact of an agreement to transfer interests between companies is best evidenced by inspecting the transition documents themselves – neither company was willing to disclose these documents as a matter of policy (one company refused to respond to numerous attempts at being contacted).
  • The client said that they would make payment on the agreed amount after the notarial certificate was drafted and sent to them – the notary said that he would have to be paid before any certificate could be completed and send for an apostille and legalisation.
  • A first incomplete draft of a notarial certificate was provided to the client to illustrate the format that the final form might take, but the client objected to parts on the basis of that the language being used was qualified. The notary indicated that the language would be adjusted to reflect the documents that were available to evidence the transaction between the companies.
  • After asking for further clarification from the client as to the availability of the contract documents evidencing the transaction, all communications ceased. No payments from the client to the notary were made.

Discussion:

A notary should only ever notarise a document that he has personally witnessed, viewed, and perused himself. In this situation, while various public company documents and an industry journal made explicit reference to the acquisition that the client wanted notarised, the notary would not be able to provide the notarial certificate in the form that the client required without seeing the contract itself. Indeed, even inspecting such a document may be insufficient without ascertaining the identity of the purported signatories and the integrity of the signatures or company seals apparent on those documents. In this case, the notary took all the steps he could to assist the client and meet its needs. But notaries should never feel coerced into providing their services without knowing that those services are being offered at best-practice level and to the standards expected of a legal professional.

Conclusion:

This particular case was an example of two issues that notaries may encounter in their practice.

  • The difficulties and risk associated with complicated notarial requests: if a client is not forthcoming in providing clear and detailed information relating to the circumstances in which the notarial act is being requested, the notary should be very careful before providing any service. In this case, an investigation had to be conducted before providing any formal notarial services to the client. The investigation that was undertaken only served to cast further suspicion on the client’s request. The client’s silence after being requested to clarify certain facts pertinent to the production of the notarial certificate indicated that the request was not entirely being made in good faith.
  • The difficulties of providing notarial services from an overseas client without prepayment of at least part of the agreed upon costs: in this situation, the notary engaged in an investigation that took time and effort, including numerous attempts to contact various parties by drafted letter, email and telephone. The notary also prepared a first draft of the certificate for the client’s perusal. A notary’s time is valuable. While the client discourteously “dropped” the notary who had already completed a substantial portion of his work, that work has gone without remuneration, and there is no hope of recuperating the amount on a quantum meruit It is for these reasons that prepayment is required for notarial services provided to overseas clients.

Warning to Notaries: Scam International Organisations

One of the most valuable assets that a public notary and legal practitioner may have is his colleague, or the professional association of which he is a member. This is because occasional advice provided by a colleague or information obtained from a professional network may be invaluable when dealing with a unique or complex case.

Membership and engagement with associations such as a College, Society or Union of Notaries can be essential to a practitioner’s continuing professional development. The organisation of educational events as well as the personal interaction between practitioners creates a collegiate environment that ultimately enhances the delivery of high quality professional services to the public.

However: lawyers and notaries must be wary of organisations that charge substantial membership fees and purport to offer services to their members, but fail to do so when they are approached in good faith.

Warning to Practitioners

This short note is a warning to notaries public who may be contemplating membership of the International Union of Notaries (UINL) for purposes of networking or professional liaison.

The International Union of Notaries

The UINL (also known as the Union Internationale du Notariat and the Unión Internacional del Notariado) is a professional association of civil law notaries which provides services to its members, including access to an online forum in which professionals can pose questions and exchange information pertaining to their practice.

The UINL has a code of conduct that establishes ethical standards and best-practice for notaries operating in civil law jurisdictions throughout the world.

Events and publications organised by the UINL have been promoted here due to the affiliation of one of the notaries who has provided notarial services to clients who will use certificates in civil law jurisdictions.

However: we are saddened to inform our readers that this affiliation has come to an end under undignified circumstances.

Brief Summary

  • A notary practicing through NotarialServices.com applied for UINL membership for a period of four years. The UINL was aware of the fact that the notary was a practitioner in the state of New South Wales. A total of $400 (USD) was paid to and accepted by the UINL. The UINL provided signed certifications of his membership in that period.
  • The notary then was approached by a client from a civil law country with a request to provide a notarial service. As the notary was uncertain of the precise form that the notarial certificate might need to take to be compliant with best practice in the jurisdiction in which it would be used, he approached the UINL for clarification.
  • After attempting to access the online forum available to member notaries, he was informed that it was only available to members.
  • The notary informed UNIL that he was, in fact, a member, and had been so for four years. The notary further asked what the membership fee he had paid for four years entitled him to. No response was received by the notary from the UINL.
  • The notary then formally wrote to the president of the UINL, Mr. José Marqueño de Llano at the organisation’s business address, enclosing copies of his four consecutive certificates as proof of his membership (Correspondence dated 28 June 2018). No response was received from the President or his office.
  • To date, the UINL has neither responded to the notary with an explanation as to why he was deemed not a member, nor why his $400 in membership fees were taken by the organisation over a period of four years.

Conclusion

Notaries are cautioned when contemplating membership of any non-essential but attractive professional bodies such as the UINL.

Despite their much vaunted “values” and “ethical standards”, some organisations will happily take a members’ money without offering promised access to their services, and without offering the basic courtesy to respond to communications when asked why that is the case.

It is up to members in the profession to ensure that the organisations to which they seek to affiliate are indeed professional and credible.

ANZCN Practice Note – Notarising Educational Records for Use Overseas

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has proscribed the circumstances under which notarial certificates verifying educational records such as testamurs issued by schools, colleges and universities can be authenticated. This means that notarial certificates which do not comply with the requirements will not be authenticated.

According to a Practice Note issues by the Australian and New Zealand College of Notaries last month, DFAT will refuse to authenticate any certificate that (a) relate to educational records originating outside of Australia, or (b) certificates that do not assert the notary’s verification of the original educational record. The only exception to the latter concerns primary and secondary school documents, as well as documents issued by TAFE and other training college records that include a “nationally recognised training stamp”.

It is possible to have the original educational record authenticated by DFAT. This option means that the notary is not required for the process of verification or authentication. However, this also means that DFAT will affix its apostille or authentication on the original educational record itself. Some people may wish to retain their originals unblemished by DFAT. In that case, the following procedure can be followed with the assistance of a notary:

    1. The client will have to provide written authority to the notary authorising the notary to make inquiries on behalf of the client with respect to the client’s educational records. This is necessary to overcome privacy constraints which may prevent some institutions from disclosing such information.
    2. The Notary will then have to inspect the client’s records and verify their authenticity. In many cases this would involve obtaining access to the educational institution’s online verification system. Alternatively, the institution will have to be contacted and arrangements made for the verification process. Either way, the Notary must be satisfied that the documents he is notarising are true and correct.
    3. The Notary will have to draft a certificate which is specifically phrased such that the notary has independently and personally verified that the educational record is a true and accurate record of the original that it purports to be an original.

The ANZCN has provided a template notarial certificate to its members, which can be used in the case of a client wanting to have his educational records authenticated but who does not want his originals physically compromised. Also provided with this Practice Note is a list of contacts for key educational institutions which can assist in the verification of their records.

This is a summary of a Practice Note issued by the ANZCN. Practitioners who would like more details about the Practice Note should contact the College directly. Client who require their educational records notarised for use overseas are encouraged to contact a local notary via this website.

ANZCN Practice Note – Dealing with Documents Written in a Foreign Language

Since notaries are approached by client who need to have documents certified for use overseas, it is not uncommon that those original documents will be drafted in a foreign language. A recent Practice Note issued by the Australian and New Zealand College of Notaries (April 2019) addresses the problems that a notary may encounter in these situations.

The Practice Note outlines four general cases which deal with a foreign language document: Where the Notary and his client are both familiar with the langue in which the document is drafted; where only the client is familiar with the language; where neither the Notary nor his client are familiar with the language; where the document being notarised is bilingual.

The Language is Known to both the Notary and the Client

The key point is that the Notary is satisfied that his client “understands the meaning and agrees with the contents of the foreign language document.”

Our additional comment: In the case where both the Notary and the client are familiar with the language in which the document is produced, the practice Note assumes that the Notary will have some working knowledge of the relevant legal provisions governing the use of the documents being notarised. However we must remind readers that this too can be a fraught with risks and difficulties (for more information, please refer to our article “Dealing with Foreign Documents”)

The Language is Known to the Client Only (not the Notary)

In the event where the Notary has no knowledge of the language in which the document is drafted but which his client claims to be familiar, the notary will have to satisfy himself that the client’s claims are true. The key point here is that even if a client is proficient in the language in which the document is prepared, oftentimes people may overestimate their ability to interpret technical or legal material. The Practice Note suggests that the Notary:

    • Might ask the client to read the document in front of him.
    • Should ask the client whether the document is understood.
    • May engage in a “gentle cross-examination” to ascertain whether the client indeed does understand the meaning of the document.

The practice Note further suggests that an additional paragraph may be included in the Notary’s certificate, to the following effect:

“AB declared to me that he/she was fluent and literate in the XYZ language and AB also declared to me that he/she had read and understood and agreed with the content of the attached document before signing the document in my presence.”

Our additional comment: The Notary may ask to go through the document a paragraph at a time and ask the client to interpret the paragraph, and whether there is any ambiguity or uncertainty in its terms or provisions. The Notary should be wary of moments where the client may appear confused or uncertain. In these situations, it may be advisable to have the client obtain a translation of the document, or seek advice from a legal professional who is competent to provide formal advice on the meaning of the document to be notarised.

The Language is Known to the Notary Only (not the Client)

In this situation, the document must be translated. The Practice Note suggest that this can be accomplished either through an interpreter who orally translates the document in the presence of the Notary, or through an accredited translation service which will provide a written translation and accompanying affidavit.

In the case of the oral translator, he will have to make a declaration to the Notary that he is fluent and literate in the relevant language, and that declaration will form part of the Notary’s certificate. Moreover, the fact that the document was translated in this way must also appear in the client’s signing clause.

In the case of the formal written translation, the translated version of the document, as well as the translator’s affidavit (and of course the foreign language original) must be included as exhibits in the notarial certificate.

Our additional comment: While obtaining a written translation may be more costly and time consuming, it is preferred on the grounds that it represents a clearer record of the manner in which the foreign language document was executed and notarised.

The document being Notarised is Bilingual (Drafted in Two Languages)

In this situation, where the document being notarised may be formatted in a way such that its provisions are arranged in two columns, one in English and another in a foreign language, it is important for the Notary to assert his and his client’s language proficiency. The Practice Note suggests the following paragraph be included into the final certification:

“AB has signed the attached document before me in the English version only understanding the English version to be a true and correct translation of the XYZ version and AB has declared to me that he is not fluent in the XYZ language and only fluent in the English language and I certify that I have witnessed the signature of AB on the attached document in the English version only and I confirm that I have no knowledge of the XYZ language.”

The key point here is that neither the client nor the Notary should assume that purported translations in bi-lingual foreign documents are accurate. Omitting the kind of language status paragraph from the notarial certificate may result in a situation where the foreign language component of the document is relied upon by another party in the foreign jurisdiction, and if that component of the document does not accurately correspond with its English version, the client (and the Notary) may be exposed to an unintended liability.

The Practice Note recommends that practitioners refer to Prof. Peter Zablud’s Principles of Notarial Practice (2nd ed.; The Notary Press, 2016), specifically chapter 10 on “Interpretations and Translations”. Or information on how to obtain a copy of this invaluable text, please direct your inquiries to the ANZCN directly.

This is a summary of a Practice Note issued by the ANZCN. Practitioners who would like more details about the Practice Note should contact the College directly. Client who require a foreign language document to be notarised for use overseas are encouraged to contact a local notary via this website.

Notarial Services Update for July 2018

Please note that our Notary Public will be in Japan on business for the entire month of July, 2018; no notarial services will be provided to clients in that time. However, new inquiries can still be sent via the contact form on our website; notarisations will be available in August. If an existing client has a notarial certificate in process of being completed, rest assured that this will be finalised before the end of the month.

ANZCN Practice Note – Requirements for Authentication under the Apostille Convention

Notaries must be able to inform their clients whether or not the process of notarisation will involve an apostille, or an additional step involving an authentication or legalisation. The recent Practice Note issued by the Australian and New Zealand College of Notaries (ANZCN) states that:

“In every case, where a notary provides a notarial certificate or attestation, he […] should ensure that the notarial client is aware of the further need for the certificate to have an Apostille affixed or for authentication and consular legalisation to be carried out. In the case of some Commonwealth countries neither step is required.” (p1 ¶ 2)

For the sake of convenience, the Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirements for Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents (5 October 1961) has removed the need for legalisation, which has been known as “chain certification”. However, this only applies to jurisdictions that have signed up to the Convention. Other jurisdictions which have not signed up to the Convention still require the additional step before the notarial act is completed.

As at September of 2017, 155 jurisdictions have signed up to the Convention. In all states of Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is the authority under the Convention to issue apostilles and authentications, as the case requires. This list will likely continue to grow in coming years, and notaries must ensure that they are familiar with the appropriate process for their notarial act.

The Hague Convention website is updated when new jurisdictions subscribe to the scheme which removes the need for “chain certification”. Australia acceded to the Convention on 11 July 1994 and it entered into force on 16 March 1995. Australian Notaries should note however that major jurisdictions such as the People’s Republic of China are not signatories to the Convention at this time, nor are many countries to our near-north.

Notaries should also note that some Commonwealth countries do not require authentication or the apostille, and a straightforward act of notarisation is sufficient for it to be considered probative. The ANZCN suggests that notaries consult with the commentary in the Second Edition of Prof. Peter Zablud’s leading text Principles of Notarial Practice and in particular Appendix 14, “Authentication Requirements for Australian Notarial Acts.” The ANZCN Practice Note makes I explicitly clear that:

“In no circumstances and on no account, should a notary ever purport to complete or sign an Apostille or Authentication.” (p 3 ¶ 4)

Out additional comment: This Practice Note may seem trite and obvious to the experienced notary, however oftentimes it may be beneficial to reinforce key concepts and principles of notarial practice. Notaries in the common law jurisdictions provide an invaluable service to clients dealing with business and other personal affairs across jurisdictions and between different countries. The purpose and function of the Apostille and Authentication is to confirm that the notary and his seal is legitimate. For jurisdictions that are not signatories to the Convention, the process of legalisation by a Consular official of the country in which the notarial certificate is intended to be used essentially authenticates DFAT’s authentication of the notary’s seal. Of course, it is impossible for a notary to authenticate his own seal. Clients must be advised which steps are necessary for their particular notarial act to be seen as credible in the eyes of a foreign court or administrative body.

This is a summary of a Practice Note issued by the ANZCN. Practitioners who would like more details about the Practice Note should contact the College directly. Client who need documents to be notarised for use overseas in a court, administrative body or for business purposes are encouraged to contact a local notary via this website.

Fundamental Principles of the Indian Notarial System

The 122th issue of the Revista Internacional del Notariado has republished a brief report by the President of the Indian Notarial Association. Shidheswar De’s contribution to the most recent issue of the UINL’s journal, “Fundamental Principles of the Indian Notarial System” commences by establishing the core concern of the notary’s practice, namely the certification of authenticity: “The authentic act offers undeniable guarantees: certain date, probative force and enforceability.” Furthermore, “It is a legal instrument adapted to the needs of society: safeguarding individual freedom, preserving economic interests and assuring transparency.” To put is more succinctly, the notarial act “is an instrument of legal certainty as it is a particularly efficient means of evidence.” [p. 97]

President De then sets out in enumerated form the principles which constitute the “essence of the notarial institution in India.” [Ibid.]

  1. Part I – Notaries and their Function
  2. Part II – Notaries and their Documents
  3. Part III – Notaries Organisation
  4. Part IV – Notaries Ethics

What follows is a summary of the salient points under each of the above headings. Practitioners and members of the public are strongly encouraged to read the original article for more information.

Part I

The authority of the Indian notary is established by noting his appointment by the State and Union of India. Notaries are required to act impartially and independently. Notaries are involved in all judicial activities but also aim to resolve disputes through mediation and other pre-litigation means. Notarial certification is sufficient to establish the authenticity and veracity to documents being signed in both the legal and commercial world. [§§ 1-4]

Part II

The authenticity of the notarial act is drawn from the signature, date and content of the document, which is then archived by the notary. The notary must at all times be guided by the instructions of his client but ensure that the outcome is consistent with the applicable laws. Before a notarized document is produced, the identities and authority of the parties must be ascertained and established. The notary must ensure that the instructions of the parties are not coerced but given voluntarily irrespective of the form that the notarial deed takes. Notaries are responsible for their drafting however they may consider suggestions and drafts that are provided to them, and then augment or amend them as needed. Parties who are authorized to obtain copies of a notarized deed have a right to acquire a copy, and that copy will have the same evidentiary weight as the archived original. The notarial deed can be disputed via judicial channels, otherwise it is considered a conclusive statement on the facts as stated in its content: they “enjoy the benefit of dual presumption of legality and accuracy of content.” Among other functions, the notary has the power to legalise signatures and executed documents as well as certify that documents are true and accurate copies of their originals. All notarised deeds that comply with the aforementioned principles are enforceable throughout India, irrespective of the jurisdiction in which they were drawn. [§§ 5-11]

Part III

Indian law – primarily the Notaries Act 1952 (Ind.) – determines the number of notaries and the distribution of notarial offices, as well as the competence of each notary. Notaries must be members of a professional association governing the notarial profession. United Kingdom law no longer governs the appointment of notaries in India, as it did under section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act 1881 (Imp). Individual state laws will determine the qualification and conditions for the appointment of notaries, however all will have the requirement that a degree in law is a fundamental criterion of admission to the profession. [§§ 12-15]

Part IV

Each state of India will determine the supervisory and disciplinary mechanisms that apply to the notarial profession. Notaries are required to act in good faith and in full integrity at all times; this obligation is directed to both the State and their colleagues. Professional secrecy is a value that notaries are expected to observe while discharging their duties to their clients. Notaries must also maintain impartiality, which might involve providing appropriate assistance to a party that is disadvantaged or in a vulnerable position. The efficient and effective discharge of professional duties involves an international notarial system of reciprocity. The choice of notary is a matter for each individual party requiring notarial services. A notary is bound by the professional standards of ethics, according to both local and international law. [§§ 16-22]

The above is a summary of the original report, which was published in the Revista Internacional del Notariado issue 122 on pages 95-98. For more information in relation to this document, readers are strongly encouraged to obtain a copy of the paper as it was originally published from the UINL.

Notarial services in Sydney can be offered strictly by appointment, by contacting us via the online form on this website. All inquiries are answered as soon as possible by a Sydney Public Notary who will be happy to discuss what your requirements are, what kind of notarial act is appropriate and what steps are involved to obtain proper notarisation. In some situations, individuals and businesses can be attended to by a mobile notary at their office or a mutually convenient location. For more information on how we can help, see our Services and Examples pages.

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.

What happens after your document is notarised? Authentication and Apostille in New South Wales

People who have not had any prior experience obtaining a Sydney Notary Public may find the process of notarising their documentation a little confusing. Often, a new client may think that getting the certification from the notary is enough to have their documentation recognised in a foreign jurisdiction (i.e. in a foreign court, tribunal or administrative body). With very few exceptions,* this is not the case. Depending on the country in which the notarised document is to be used, it will almost certainly require further steps before it is ready for presentation. Clients should therefore be very careful that they have followed all the steps in the process before sending their material to where it needs to be viewed or cited.

The Australian and New Zealand College of Notaries has published a very useful guide to notarial practitioners that outlines the basics of what happens after a document is certified and sealed in New South Wales. This is a valuable reminder to practitioners to either (a) properly inform their clients what they are supposed to do after their signature and seal is placed on the documentation, or (b) ensure that the practitioner himself takes the necessary steps to give effect to the notarisation. In essence, the guide provides for the following general information:

1. What is the Purpose of the Notarisation, and why does DFAT need to be involved?

The purpose of notarisation is to establish the authenticity of a document or item, or information contained in the document, or to take  Declaration or witness that a signature belongs to the person signing a document. However, because an overseas authority will have no objective way to ascertain whether a notary who notarises a document is indeed authorised to certify such a document or item, DFAT will be involved in the process by establishing the notary’s authenticity. A foreign court, administrative body or tribunal will accept that DFAT has the power to declare whether or not a notarial seal is genuine because DFAT has a record of all current notaries’ signatures and seals. When DFAT is asked to place an apostille or authentication on the document that has had the notary’s signature and seal applied, that apostille or authentication attests to the authenticity of that signature and seal. This is why it is essential for DFAT to be involved in the final stages of the notarisation.

2. How do I know whether my Document needs an Apostille or an Authentication?

Whether DFAT applies an apostille or authorisation will depend on the jurisdiction (counrty) to which the notarised document will be sent. Countries that have signed the Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents (1961) will require the apostille. Generally, all other countries will require an authentication. The ANZCN suggests that these other countries will include China (PRC), Vietnam and most fo the states in the Middle East. It should be remembered that if a notarisation will need an authentication, there is a third step in the process: that document, after obtaining the authentication from DFAT, will then need to be taken to the diplomatic mission of the country it will be presented to, and there it will be receive legalisation.

3. What should I do to ensure that my Document is properly notarised?

Apostilles and Authentications can be obtained by sending the notarised document to DFAT along with a fee. At the date of this post, that fee is set at $80. The fee is payable to DFAT and not the NSW Public Notary. The fee includes binding and return by post, however, if the client wishes to have their documents returned by registered post or express post, a pre-paid envelope will have to be provided along with the document itself (this will not have the effect of reducing the fee payable to DFAT). Providing DFAT with the documentation can be done either “over the counter” by appointment or by post. Clients should allow the authorities a week to process the documentation before it is returned either to the client or the notary.

A Notary Public in Sydney may providing his signature and seal to the client’s documentation, or he may take it upon himself to follow any additional steps so that the documentation is ready to be sent overseas. Either way, the steps above will be essential to complete the task at hand. A notary may chose not to take the additional steps of securing an authentication or an apostille himself so as to keep the costs to the client to a minimum (notaries are entitled to charge for their time and pass on the costs of DFAT onto the client). However, in this circumstance, the client will therefore have to remember that the work of the notary himself constitutes only part of the process of notarisation and acquiring an apostille or authentication will become his own obligation. So that confusion and misunderstanding is avoided, the notary should properly advice and instruct his client what the circumstances require and the client should take heed of this advice before using the notarised document.

For more information about the process involved after the notary has applied his signature and seal to the document, see the following relevant sections:

* In some cases, the requirement of obtaining an apostille may not be necessary. There are Commonwealth countries where the apostille is not needed, such as the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Singapore. It is essential, however, to always check the Notary Public in NSW so that documents are not embarrassingly rejected when they are inspected, relied upon or otherwise used overseas.

Proper notarisation is essential if you want your documentation to be respected by overseas authorities. For more information about whether your material will need an apostille or an authorisation (and legalisation) see your local Sydney Notary so that proper advice can be provided to you. If the notarial act is not recognised by the relevant overseas body, consequences can include dire and long lasting damage to personal and business interests. A Notary in Sydney will be able to provide the necessary services to ensure that your document is treated in the appropriate manner.

The Cross-Border Circulation of Notarial Acts

Revista internacional del notario 121The 121th issue of the Revista Internacional del Notariado has republished a paper originally presented to the 2014 Conference of the Australian and New Zealand College of Notaries by Dr. Jeffrey A. Talpis, on the topic of the “Cross-Border Circulation of Notarial Acts.” This paper will be of particular interest to notaries practicing in the Australian jurisdiction.

The paper has been presented in three major sections, the notarial act in domestic law, the notarial act in private international law, and lastly, the way forward. The first two sections are further broken down into appraisals  from the common law and civil law perspectives as well as addressing issues concerning the validity, recognition and enforcement of the notarial act.

Dr. Talpis immediately identifies the major problems associated with the circulation of notarial acts across borders and legal jurisdictions, these broadly being [p. 93]:

  1. The lack of a uniform definition  of the notarial act in either domestic or private international law;
  2. Potential conflict of law issues when dealing with the “formal and substantial validity” of the notarial act;
  3. The “recognition and effects, including their probative effect and enforceability”;
  4. The “status, authority, quality and power of the instrumenting notary”;
  5. The risks and effects of the forgery of, and counterfeit or tampering with an existing notarial act; and
  6. Costs and delays associated with ensuring that the notarial act is current.

Civil Law Countries

Dr. Talpis commences by stating that the notarial act is “the most important of the authentic instruments” in the civil law countries. The basis for this is the fact that the notary has a dual character: he is an official who is attributed with the authority of the state to the extent that the notary has the capacity and authority to confer authenticity to documents, and secondly, he is an experienced legal practitioner who advises his clients with respect to the material being notarised. Accordingly, “[t]he notarial act is endowed with the strongest presumption of veracity.” [p. 94]

While a notarial act can be challenged in special judicial proceedings, this is very difficult because the threshold to successfully defeat the effects of a notarised documents is exceptionally high. To complicate matters further, the Civil Codes rarely provide a satisfactory definition of what a notarial act is. Be that as  it may, attempts have been made to provide definitive frameworks for the notarial act, such the Unibank Case for the purposes of European community law (Unibank A/S v. Fleming G. Christensen C-1260/97 1999 ECR 1-3715). According to the authority of Unibank, a notarial act is authentic if:

  1. The document is drawn by a public authority in accordance with the laws of the state in which it was drawn;
  2. The document’s authenticity is established by the public notary;
  3. This establishing of authenticity relates to the signatures upon the act and the contents of the act; and
  4. The act is to be enforceable in its own right, according to the laws of the state in which it was drawn.

Dr. Talpis suggests, however, that the decision in Unibank is limited  because the authentication of the identity and signatures of parties to a notarised document does not in and of itself constitute a notarial act in most civil law jurisdictions: “[i]t is essentially an authenticated private document.” [Ibid.] He adds however that in some civil law countries the above will positively define a notarial act, so long as the notary further certifies the contents of the document being notarised and attests that the parties have capacity to contract and that the notarisation is not “contrary to public policy.” [Ibid.]

Common Law Countries

Dr. Talpis commences the section pertaining to the common law jurisdictions by stating that the definition of a notarial act – should there be one in a given state or territory – is founded upon the “activity of the notary” and not the conditions or effects of the notarial act. As an example, Talpis makes reference to Brook’s Notary and the legal position in the United Kingdom, where the definition is give along the following lines:

The act of a notary public, authenticated by his signature and official seal, certifying the due execution in his presence of a deed, contract or other writing or verifying some fact or thing of which the notary has certain knowledge.” [p. 95; Talpis at n. 2 adds that this citation is from the 12th edition of Brook’s Notrary (2002) at p. 65]

This is additionally compared to the definition of a notarial act under section 2.1 of the Professional Conduct and Practice Rules (Vic) which states that a notarial act is “any instrument which has validity by virtue only of its preparation, authentication, execution or completion by a notary.” Moreover, under rule 32.20 of the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 (Eng.) “[a] notarial act or instrument may be received in evidence without further proof as duly authenticated in accordance with the requirements of law unless the contrary is proved.” [p. 95] Furthermore, under section 2.8 the Model Notarial Act 2010 (US) the notarial act is defined as (Talpis’ words follow):

“[A]ny act of authentication or attestation that a notary is empowered to do in accordance with the provisions of the Act. This includes the certification of signatures and identity of signatures, affirmation, and certification of copies, the ‘jurat’ and statements under oath.” [Ibid.]

In contrast with the position in civil law countries however, the United States notary is not authorised to offer legal advice under the Model Notarial Act because  the US notary is not required to have any legal training. Be that as it may, some common law jurisdictions draw a distinction between the notarial act in the public and private form [for more on this distinction, see Public vs Private Form]. Likewise, pursuant to the draft Model Civil Law Notary Act (US) proposed law reform in the US distinguishes between notarial authentic acts from the authentication of private signature documents. Article 118.10 of the Civil Law Notarial Act (Florida, US) establishes an irrefutable presumption of the veracity and truth of a notarial act’s contents, and this presumption is rebuttable only in appeal proceedings. [Ibid.] Talpis concludes this section by stating that:

The differences in the definition of the notarial act in civil law and in Common Law and even within systems of the same legal tradition are significant obstacles to the international circulation of acts.” [Ibid.]

Private International Law: The Notarial Validity and Effects

Dr. Talpis suggests that conflicts regarding the effects and validity of a notarial act are resolved by the choice of law rules. Likewise, questions concerning a party’s capacity will be determined according to that party’s lex loci though Talpis does caution that in some jurisdictions this will depend on the nature of the notarial act itself. He writes that:

In general the rule of locus regit actum applies in principal to determine the law applicable to the formal validity of an act, but there are some exceptions, by virtue of codified rules, case law, legal writings or more simply notarial practice.” [p. 96]

Validity, Recognition and Enforcement of Common Law Notarial Acts in Civil Law Jurisdictions

Authenticated private agreements between parties are considered within civil law jurisdictions to be notarial acts. A question arises however whether a notarial act created in a common law jurisdiction is an authentic act in the eyes of the civil law [p. 97]. Talpis illustrates two different approaches, the first being the obvious option for the common law notarial act to be rejected outright in the civil law jurisdiction:

“[i]n other words, equivalence is excluded if the notarial act under the foreign law (lex loci contractus) does not have the same attributes as the notarial act under the law of the jurisdiction where it is produced.” [Ibid.]

Alternatively, an “international or cosmopolitan approach” could be adopted by a civil law court or notary, so that notarial acts prepared and executed by common law notaries who are public officers and legal professionals would be considered authentic acts for the purposes of private international law; this would mean that the definition of an authentic act under civil law would be flexible tot the extent that it would accommodate situations where the notarisation in question was drawn overseas, i.e. even where the provisions of the lex fori are not strictly met:

Clearly, it is not the name given to the act that is important. Rather it is the role and function of the person acting as the ‘notary’.” [Ibid.]

While Talpis favours the second approach and encourages civil law legal professionals to adopt it, he notes that the first continues to be the dominant position. This is reaffirmed by operation of the Unibank Case as well as the 18 December 2008 Resolution of the European Parliament which effectively excludes notarial acts drafted in England and Wales from the definition of authentic acts under civil law (Ref: 2008/2124 INI) [p. 98]. He concludes this section by stating that:

one should not forget that the absence of uniformity in the substantial conditions of the formation of and effect of notarial acts is also an obstacle to their cross-border circulation.” [Ibid.]

Validity, Recognition and Enforcement of Civil Law Notarial Acts in Common Law Jurisdictions

The use of civil law notarial acts in common law countries is governed under the locus regit actum principle. One difficulty that Dr. Talpis identifies is the common law requirement that parties to a contract should be advised to obtain independent legal advice so that their consent is informed (n.b. Talpis uses the term “enlightened” at ibid.). Accordingly, in some states of the US, this requirement of informed consent is not recognised by way of the notarial act alone and questions pertaining to the contract’s validity (i.e. whether the parties’ obtained independent legal advice) will be ventilated in judicial proceedings in the ordinary fashion. Talpis claim that “[e]seentially this amounts to a refusal to recognise the institution of the Civil Law notary.” [Ibid.]

Be that as it may, a recent decision of the New York Court of Appeal suggested that it is not inconceivable that a common law court will recognise the validity of an arrangement entered into between parties in a civil law jurisdiction before a civil law notary. Van Kipnis vs. Van Kipnis (2008) 900 NE 2d 977 (Court of Appeal of New York) involved a request by a spouse for the redistribution of matrimonial property in divorce proceedings before the common law court, where that requested redistribution was proposed to be effected pursuant to the terms of an agreement entered into between the spouses earlier, before a French notary; there, the common law court agreed to grant the orders sought. [Ibid.]

The position is by no means a settled matter of universal common law practice: in Re the Marriage of A.P. and K.P. (Case Number 10-D-482; unreported, Illinois Judicial Circuit Court, St. Claire County, Zina Cruse J., 20 May 2011) the court held that the evidence did not satisfy the requirements that independent legal advice was obtained by the parties or that the necessary financial disclosure was made before the agreement was entered into; the contract was therefore held to be “illegal” on the basis that its recognition under the circumstances would be contrary to public policy. Accordingly, Talpis recommends that civil law notaries may direct that their clients seek independent legal advice in situations where the terms of a notarised document may be ventilated before a common law court, even if such a direction may see to be an “abdication”  of the to civil notary’s role. [pp. 98-99]

Talpis’ Recommendations

By way of conclusion, Dr. Talpis recommends that the cosmopolitan and international approach should be adopted to the definition, characterisation and circulation of notarial acts across borders. He further suggests that this may be codified either through the vehicle of the Hague Convention or UNIDROIT, noting that if an attempt to harmonize the laws in relation to international wills has been achieved, “why not one on notarial acts?” [p. 99 n. 17].

The above is a summary of the original paper, which was presented at the 2014 Conference of the Australian and New Zealand College of Notaries and republished in the Revista Internacional del Notariado issue 121. For more information in relation to the paper itself, readers are strongly encouraged to obtain a copy of the paper as it was originally published.

A Sydney Notary Public can assist in the production of an international will which is intended to be used overseas. For more information, see the practice note on the new (albeit voluntary) regime governing the drafting and execution of international wills in New South Wales. A notary public in Sydney will be able to draft and execute the required notarial certificate which will become part of the foreign will and which will give it legal weight and probative value in the eyes of a foreign court, notarial practice or administrative body. International wills can be drafted in a language that is not English. For more information, see also our section on foreign language documents. In some cases, a Sydney Public Notary may be able to attend the home or office of an individual or business. For more on the local availability of a mobile notary, see the listed information on where our Sydney notaries can conduct their business.