Notary Public

Notaries are appointed by a government authority, such as a court or lieutenant governor, or by a regulating body often known as a society or faculty of notaries public. For lawyer notaries, an appointment may be for life, while lay notaries are usually commissioned for a briefer term, with the possibility of renewal.

In most common law countries, appointments and their number for a given notarial district are highly regulated. However, since the majority of American notaries are lay persons who provide officially required services, commission numbers are not regulated, which is part of the reason why there are far more notaries in the United States than in other countries (4.5 million vs. approx. 740 in England and Wales and Approx. 1,250 in Australia and New Zealand). Furthermore, all U.S. and some Canadian notarial functions are applied to domestic affairs and documents, where fully systematized attestations of signatures and acknowledgment of deeds are a universal requirement for document authentication. By contrast, outside North American common law jurisdictions, notarial practice is restricted to international legal matters or where a foreign jurisdiction is involved, and almost all notaries are also qualified lawyers.

For the purposes of authentication, most countries require commercial or personal documents which originate from or are signed in another country to be notarized before they can be used or officially recorded or before they can have any legal effect. To these documents a notary affixes a notarial certificate which attests to the execution of the document, usually by the person who appears before the notary, known as an appearer or constituent (U.S.). In places where lawyer notaries are the norm, a notary may also draft legal instruments known as notarial acts or deeds which have probative value and executory force, as they do in civil law jurisdictions. Originals or secondary originals are then filed and stored in the notary's archives, or protocol.

Notaries are generally required to undergo special training in the performance of their duties. Some must also first serve as an apprentice before being commissioned or licensed to practice their profession. In many countries, even licensed lawyers, e.g., barristers or solicitors, must follow a prescribed specialized course of study and be mentored for two years before being allowed to practice as a notary (e.g., British Columbia, England). However, notaries public in the U.S., of which the vast majority are lay people, require only a brief training seminar and are expressly forbidden to engage in any activities that could be construed as the practice of law unless they are also qualified attorneys. Yet, despite these apparent differences, notarial practice is universally considered to be distinct and separate from that of attorney (solicitor/barrister). In England and Wales,there is a course of study for notaries which is conducted under the auspices of the University of Cambridge and the Society of Notaries of England and Wales. In the State of Victoria, Australia, applicants for appointment must first complete a Graduate Diploma of Notarial Practice which is administered by the Sir Zelman Cowen Centre in Victoria University, Melbourne.