C&A Friedlander Attorneys

What is a Notary Public?

A Notary Public, commonly referred to as a Notary, is an attorney admitted and authorised by the High Court of South Africa after having written a specialised examination for notarial practice. As a result, a Notary holds the statutory and common law powers to prepare and attest certain legalized documents, as well as administer oaths and perform other wide-ranging administrative functions of a national and international nature.

The service of a Notary is commonly required in various fields, such as conveyancing, marriage and the authentication of documents for use in a foreign country. The Notary can draft various specialised documents, which much be signed and witnessed in his/her presence. These documents include, but are not limited to, the preparation and execution of antenuptial contracts, post nuptial contracts, life partnership contracts, Notarial servitudes and bonds as well as Notarial authentication and attestation of documents for use abroad. A Notary is required by law to keep a register of the aforementioned documents.

Additional documents that may be certified by a Notary:

  • Letters of No Impediment
  • Divorce Certificates and Decrees of Divorces
  • Police Clearance Certificates
  • Powers of Attorney
  • Copies of Identity Documents
  • Educational Qualification Documents

For official documents to be legalised, the document will be affixed with a seal and signed by the Notary Public by way of a Certificate of Authentication. A Notary’s seal is placed on a red label on the certificate. The certificate is to state that the signature on the document is the signature of the person named therein and the Notary’s stamp or seal are placed thereon to confirm this. The Notary therefore will require the original document when verifying that the copy is a true copy of the original and that no amendments were made to the document.

Professional conduct, general and specific duties

While all legal practitioners must fulfil their duties with the necessary skill and diligence, whilst maintaining the highest standard of honesty and integrity, Notaries are held to an even higher standard of accountability and are regarded as having even more responsibility as to their level of skill and accuracy.

The duties of a notary are as follows:

  • A Notary needs to ensure that the facts of each matter dealt with by him or her are correct and accurate.
  • The required formalities regarding the legalisation of documents need to be adhered to.
  • A Notary must ensure that the contents of the notarial documents are explained to the clients and that the clients are fully aware of the legal consequences before signing the notarial documents.
  • It is the duty of the Notary to confirm the identity of the persons appearing before him or her and to determine whether the parties have the capacity to enter into the relevant agreement.
  • The Notary must at all times be aware of the fact that he or she is serving laypersons, and should always ensure that the contents of the documents are understood by the parties involved.
  • A Notary acts as an agent for the clients and will be held responsible for any legal circumstances that stem from any inaccurate or false information attested to by the Notary.
  • A Notary must ensure that the document is signed under the signatory’s free will.

The office of a Notary Public is similar to that of a Commissioner of Oaths, however, a Commissioner’s certification does not carry the same weight as that of a Notary Public. As previously mentioned, a Notary is a specialist attorney who has the necessary knowledge of certain acts and is empowered by law to officially witness signatures, take statements and certify the validity of documents for use nationally or internationally. When a document is attested to by a Notary Public, it can be positively assumed that all the facts contained therein are true and correct.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE).