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Public Notaries Explained: What is a public notary and how can they help you?

public notary sydney
What exactly is a public notary and what do they do for the people of Sydney?

Notary Public, Public Notary, Notary – what’s the difference?

There is no difference between a notary public, a public notary and a notary – they’re all the same thing. For the purposes of this article, we’ll refer to them as a public notary – that makes it less confusing. A public notary is a public officer that must be a practicing solicitor or lawyer – appointed for life by a State or Territory Supreme Court. This officer is given statutory powers to witness documents, administer oaths, and perform a range of other administrative functions both of a national and international nature.

The seals and signatures of all appointed public notaries are officially recorded onto a database, which is held by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). DFAT is a department of the Australian government that is authorised to issue Apostille or Authentication Certificates, which certify that the signatures, seals or stamp of Public Notaries on Australian public documents are genuine. In addition to this, every Public Notary in Sydney has their signature, seal or stamp registered with the Supreme Court of New South Wales and the Society of Notaries of NSW (if they are a member).

What does a Public Notary do?

A public notary has the statutory power to do the following:

  • Verify documents for use in Australia and internationally
  • Certify copy documents for use in Australia and internationally
  • Attest documents and certify their due execution for use in Australia and internationally
  • Prepare and certify powers of attorney, wills, deeds, contracts and other legal documents for use in Australia and internationally
  • Administer oaths for Australian and international documents
  • Witness signatures to affidavits, statutory declarations, powers of attorney, contracts and other documents for use in Australia and internationally
  • Exemplify official documents for use internationally
  • Note and protest bills of exchange
  • Prepare ships’ protests

How does a Public Notary differ from a Justice of the Peace?

A Justice of the Peace (JP) in Australia will provide a service similar to American notaries but, unlike a public notary, is not permitted to witness documents for use in foreign countries. A public notary has this exclusive right to perform functions in respect of international documents for use outside of Australia, making them the only true international JPs in Australia.

While a public notary is a public officer of Australia, a JP is a volunteer of good character standing in the community who has been appointed by the Governer-in-Council on the recommendation of the Attorney-General.

The role of a JP is mainly focused on the following activities:

  • Certifying a person’s identity
  • Certifying true copies of original documents (such as a birth certificate)
  • Witnessing affidavits and statutory declarations

A public notary carries out the above activities, with the addition of assisting with:

  • Documents for personal use, such as passports, academic transcripts/testamurs and citizenship certificates
  • Overseas Police Checks
  • Contracts that relate to the sale of foreign property or businesses, or sales with an overseas vendor/purchaser
  • Wills and probate documents involving overseas estates and beneficiaries
  • Documents for international trademark or copyright, patent applications and infringements
  • Overseas trade documentation, e.g. a Letter of Credit (LC)
  • Company constitutions and accompanying documentation
  • Instruments affecting the transfer of land
  • Paperwork for the consent of a minor to travel overseas without their parents

Essentially, when you need to have a document witnessed or authenticated for overseas use, you will more likely need to make an appointment with a Public Notary than a JP. However, you should check with the receiving entity in the overseas country where the document is to be produced/used.

How can I best prepare to see a Public Notary?

If you are requiring the statutory powers of a Public Notary, you should go prepared. Here are a few hints to ensure that your visit to the public notary runs as smoothly as possible.

  • Set up an appointment  - it will be unlikely that you will be able to see one without first organising to do so.
  • Be identifiable – bring good evidence of identification, such as current and valid passport or driver’s licence that will confirm your current address.
  • Prepare to pay – a public notary may be able to give you a rough idea of the fee to be charged when you speak to them over the phone, but they will not be able to quote accurately until they see the documents and assess the nature of the matter.
  • Bring it all – Show the notary the instructions you may have received from overseas so that they can try to ensure that your requirements are satisfied during the first visit.
  • Send a copy – If you are able to scan and send a copy of the document to be provided before your visit, this will save you time and possibly expense, as the notary will be able to prepare a more detailed quote.
  • Translations required – if the document is not in English, the public notary might require a translation to be obtained before they can process the documents. Alternatively if the Public Notary needs to verify the signature of the person signing a translation is not required.

In general, for a straightforward document you could expect your appointment with the notary to take about 15 minutes, then the notary’s further involvement may necessitate another 10 minutes. If the document is not so straightforward, it may take slightly longer.

CM Lawyers provides a notarial service, and is the preferred notary on a number of foreign embassies in Sydney. Contact us to make an appointment today.