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.

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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.

Notice: Society of Notaries of NSW, “Twilight Seminar”

The Society of Notaries of New South Wales will be hosting a “Twilight Seminar” on Tuesday 17 November 2015 for solicitors practicing as notaries in this jurisdiction. There will be three topics covered, and presentations will be made by professionals and specialists in their given field. These will include:

Justin Betar who will focus on a refresher on the execution of documents (including the execution of documents by companies) and the importance of preparing a proper Notarial certificate. He will also cover what the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has highlighted as improper certificates, Notaries using rubber “stamps” as Notarial certificates, particularly regarding education documents. Mr. Bedar is a Notary Public and Lawyer practicing in Sydney CBD. He is the Secretary of The Society of Notaries of New South Wales Inc., and has a particular interest about Notary education. Mr. Bedar was appointed as the Honorary Counsel for the Republic of Ghana in September 2013.

His Honour, Justice Steven Rares will delve into the world the importance of Notaries in international arbitrations and the Admiralty jurisdiction and provide some tips in identifying forged documents. Justice Rares is a Judge of the Federal Court of Australia and is the National co-convening judge and the New South Wales registry convening judge for the Admiralty and Maritime Practice Area.

Alistair Marshal will provide useful and simple ideas on improving the overall performance of the law firm by implementing simple, achievable and cost effective solutions to common problems and issues. Mr. Marshal is a business development expert in Sydney and works with small and large law firms as well as other professionals to increase referrals, new instructions and enhance profit.

Attendance at this seminar will entitle the practitioner to claim 2.5 units of the annual mandatory continuing legal education requirement. For more information about this seminar series, readers are encouraged to contact the Society of Notaries of New South Wales directly.

ANZCN Practice Note – Record Keeping Guidelines

The Australian and New Zealand College of Notaries has issued a Practice Note concerning the minimum requirements for the notarial practice in relation to the keeping of records. The Practice Note, which has been circulated to members of the College today, states that the following matters should be retained by Notaries Public:

  • The date that the notarial service was offered to the client;
  • The name and address of the client to whom the notarial service is being provided;
  • The particulars of the service, described in concise terms;
  • The manner in which the client was identified by the notary, including the identification particulars;
  • In the event that the client was acting in a representative capacity (eg. if the client was a corporate entity and the person giving instructions to the notary was a director of that company) then evidence that establishes that the person was legitimately acting in his purported representative capacity must also be recorded;
  • The basis upon which an original document was certified;
  • Any unique number (such as an index number or serial number) of any document that was connected to the notarial act or certificate, where that document or copy thereof is to be retained by the notary in his protocol;
  • The details of any non-notarial services provided to the client which were adjunct to the notarial service;
  • Fees charged for services rendered;
  • Any special notes or notations in relation to the notarisation or the client.

Notarial records can be retained electronically or in hard copy format, however these must be kept in a secure location and treated according to how a legal practitioner would be expected to treat sensitive and confidential documents.

Importantly, the College recommends that:

  1. Notaries should retain records for a period of twelve years in relation to marine protests, records relating to notarial intervention and originals and copies of authentic form acts;
  2. Recommendation 1 is subject to the individual State and Territory regulatory requirements for notarial practices in relation to the retention of records.

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.

In line with the requirements of notarial practice in New South Wales, as outlined in the Notarial Practice Course (College of Law, “Continuing Professional Development: Seminar Papers: Notarial Practice” #CN130703_NOT1, 30 July 2013, at p. 7) clients should expect that a copy of the notarial act or certificate which is drafted, produced and executed by the notary will be retained for the notarial record.

ANZCN Comment – Fraudulent Notarial Acts and Certificates

The Australian and New Zealand College of Notaries has circulated a Comment concerning problems and dangers that some practitioners encounter when they are presented with spurious or nonsense documents for notarisation.

The Commentary encloses an example of a document purporting to be a “Notarial Protest For Non-Payment – Non-Performance of the Bill’s Irrevocable Prerogative Writ of Commands” which is allegedly drafted pursuant to the Bills of Exchange Act 1909 (Cth). Prof. Philip Hamilton, who prepared the Commentary for the College, urges notaries to take care when they find themselves being asked by their clients to sign and seal documents that appear to be suspicious.

From the outset, there is in fact no such creature as a “Prerogative Writ of Commands” (ANZCN Comment at ¶¶ 2, 10(g)). Moreover, while the Bills of Exchange Act applies to defined bills of exchange, inland bills do not require to be protested; yet the suspicious document that the notary was asked to notarise appeared to concern parties all of whom appear to be residents within the Commonwealth. Only foreign bills of exchange can be protested, and within 48 hours after being noted (ibid at ¶¶ 4-7).

Another thing that should alert the notary to the potential danger of executing and sealing a suspicious document is that it is drafted in a manner which suggests it is the act of the notary himself. Prof Hamilton notes that “[b]y virtue of this, the notary is not merely attesting that [the client] has signed it, but is adopting it as [his], and is asserting the truth and accuracy of its contents” (ibid at ¶ 1).

Furthermore, the suspicious document, which was not drafted by the notary to whom it has been presented, purports to narrate a series of alleged factual events, which veracity the notary cannot possibly be aware (ibid at ¶ 11). In addition, the suspicious document includes further argumentative and unprofessional text which appears to go to the powers and authority of certain persons addressed in the narrative; this is then followed by “the crunch”: a claim for payment (ibid at ¶ 12).

Prof Hamilton identifies that “the entire thrust of this document is to grab onto the coattails of the Bills of Exchange Act because it uses the grossly misunderstood term ‘protest’ in relation (solely) to foreign bills of exchange” (ibid at ¶ 14) but that Public Notaries:

“[S]ould understand that protests of bills of exchange and ships’ protests are merely antiquated methods of recording a sequence of events so that, in any proceedings that arise from the facts, there is immediately available an authoritative statement of the essential facts.” (ibid at ¶ 15)

The Commentary warns notaries that the use of similar documents in the United States has resulted in criminal prosecution of  the guilty parties as well as their advisers and that some of these have had lengthy prison terms imposed at sentencing (ibid at ¶ 16).

The fact that the suspicious document makes reference to yet another document, while that other document is not attached or exhibited (ibid at ¶¶ 8-10) should raise additional concerns in the mind of the notary. A question that should naturally arise is whether or not that other document in fact exists, or whether it is itself defective or spurious if it does exist. Prof. Hamilton concludes that:

It is, in our opinion, only a matter of time before documents such as the present come before the superior courts in Australia, at which point notaries who have permitted the malefactors to engage their services by preparing, signing and sealing such patently fraudulent rubbish will be inevitably found to have been instrumental in perpetrating the fraud, which traduces the fame and office of the notary public.” (ibid at ¶ 17)

In light of the dangers that may arise when a notary seals a document that may be nonsensical or fraudulent, especially where that document is drafted as if it were issued by the notary himself, the risk of a potential finding of professional misconduct against the notary is a very serious matter. Where the notary’s signature and seal attest to the veracity of the document being notarised, “[c]ritical appraisal of every document is vital” (ibid at ¶ 19).

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.

Additional Comment

In light of the issues described above, some questions that the notary may wish to ask his potential client before offering his services (in circumstances similar to those outlined in the College’s Commentary above) may be:

  1. Why does the client require the document to be notarised?
  2. Who prepared the document that is requested to be notarised?
  3. Has the client received legal advice in relation to the document to be notarised?
  4. Has the client received any other advice in relation to same, and if so, from whom?
  5. Where are the other documents which are referred to in the narrative?
  6. If the other documents are unavailable, why are they unavailable?
  7. Who is attesting or declaring to the veracity of the narrative in the document?
  8. Why does the client not prefer to swear or affirm an affidavit or statutory declaration in respect of the narrative?
  9. Are there any proceedings on foot, whether legal or administrative, in relation to the subject matter in or of the document to be notarised?
  10. If there are proceedings on foot or being contemplated, is legal counsel involved, and if not, why not?
  11. If legal counsel is involved, is he aware of the fact that notarisation of the document is being requested, if not, why not?

In the words of Prof. Hamilton, “[w]e stress yet again that the notary has no duty to sign whatever is put before […] him” (at ¶ 19).