A notary is defined by what he is and what he does. He is a qualified lawyer whose task it is to certify documents and transactions so that they can be effective in countries outside the United Kingdom


Caroline Coats has one of the few law practices in Hampshire focusing exclusively on legal advice to older people, the disabled, their carers and their families. The population is ageing and new and complex rules are constantly issued affecting entitlement to NHS non-means tested funding of care, powers of attorney and the Court of Protection, as well as the more traditional areas of inheritance tax, Wills, probate and trusts. There has never been a more pressing need for expert and sympathetic guidance.

We see clients in their own homes, where the atmosphere is relaxed and paperwork is easily to hand. Through our work, we champion the rights of older people

  • to receive proper independent advice
  • to be given the care and funding to which they are entitled
  • to be allowed to make their own decisions, free from interference, bullying or fraud
We also give free talks to community groups of all sorts on the law as it affects older people, the disabled, their carers and their families.

The Notarial Profession in England and Wales

The notarial profession in England and Wales is best understood from a historical perspective. Until 1533 notaries were appointed on papal authority by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Following the break from Rome, appointments continued to be made by the Archbishop of Canterbury - but on the authority of the Crown. The Archbishop's jurisdiction was, and is, exercised through one of the oldest of the English court's - the Court of Faculties, now physically located at the Precinct adjoining Westminster Abbey in London. The Court is presided over by the Master of the Faculties who is the most senior ecclesiastical judge and commonly also a judge of the Supreme Court. Since 1801 the appointment and regulation of notaries has been underpinned by statutes enacted by Parliament.

The qualification, appointment and regulation of notaries

The current machinery for the education and appointment of notaries is established under rules made by the Master of the Faculties under powers given to him by the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990. Once the Diploma is obtained, an applicant may petition the Court of Faculties for a 'Faculty' - a formal warrant under the seal of the Archbishop of Canterbury confirming his appointment and powers.

The organisation of notaries

There are approximately 1,000 notaries in England and Wales. Of these, about 800 are members of the Notaries Society - the membership body which represents the interests of notaries. The work of the Notaries Society is wide ranging but includes education, international representation and the development of professional standards.

Throughout England and Wales, all, save about 150 notaries, are also qualified as solicitors.

Within England and Wales a notary is authorised to carry out all legal work other than the conduct of litigation. The authority of a notary is derived both from statute and from the Faculty granted to him by the Court of Faculties. The Faculty enables a notary to perform notarial acts in the public (or authentic) form recognised in civil law jurisdictions as well as in the private form which is accepted in England and Wales and other common law jurisdictions. A notarial Faculty states that full force and effect should be given to all instruments (including acts in both the public or private form) made by a notary. Notaries who are also solicitors carry out most of this domestic work (including litigation) in their capacity as solicitors and are subject to regulation by the Law Society. Until the eighteenth century notaries would authenticate their acts with an individual sign - often extremely elaborate. The use of seals to authenticate 'deeds' was the normal way of establishing their validity in the courts. Gradually, notaries adopted seals in substitution for their signs and by the nineteenth century it had become established that any notarial act should be attested by a notary's signature supported by his individual seal. All notaries now have such a distinctive seal - often illustrated with professional or historical signs.

Functions include:

  • The administration of oaths
  • The attestation or authentication of powers of attorney for use abroad. Many foreign legal systems require powers of attorney to be executed before a notary.
  • A notary may also be called upon to certify the proper execution or signing of any sort of document that is to be used overseas and, if required, to confirm that is binding in English law.
  • To note and draw protests in maritime matters and to protest bills of exchange.
  • The drawing for repayments of bonds of debenture.
  • Completion of documentation for the registration of a company in different parts of the Commonwealth or overseas.
  • Completion of documentation for the entry of a person to overseas territories.