Frequently Asked Questions
On the page you will find answers to the following questions:
- Do I need really need a notary at all?
- Do I need to use a notary or can I use a solicitor, barrister or other type of lawyer?
- I do need to have a document notarised, but do I have to use a notary?
- Why does it cost so much just for you to put your signature and seal on a document (which only takes a minute)?
- Can I notarise a document you need to sign without me seeing you signing it?
- Statutory declarations and affidavits for use in the United Kingdom
Do I need really need a notary at all?
The only way you can really know that you need a notary is when:
- you are asked to sign a document in front of a notary; or
- you are asked for a copy of a document to be certified by a notary.
Some pointers as to whether a notary is needed:
- the document is going to someone in England or Wales. A notary is not needed
- the document is going to someone in Scotland or Northern Ireland. A notary is almost never needed
- the document is going to a member country of the Commonwealth. The use of a notary is sometimes needed
- the document is going to the United States of America. The use of a notary is often required
- the document is going to a European, Latin-American or Arab country. The use of notary will normally always be required
- the document can be dealt by a Commissioner for Oaths (or a range of other specified persons) and the document is for use in the UK. The use of notary is not required but it possible to do so
Do I need to use a notary or can I use a solicitor, barrister or other type of lawyer?
It depends on is what you have been asked to do. If you need to use a document abroad you will receive instructions or information which will say what type of lawyer you need to use (if you need to use one at all). The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (when legalisation is required) will deal with documents signed by a notary or solicitor or other lawyer. But the real issue is what is acceptable or required in the country where the document is going too.
If you are asked to use a notary (and no other type of lawyer is listed), or the information you have says a document needs signing before a notary pubic, or be ‘notarised’ etc then only a notary will do. The reason often being that in destination country such a document will be dealt with by a notary (and not any other type of lawyer).
I do need to have a document notarised, but do I have to use a notary?
If you are asked to have a document notarised sometimes it is possible that you can ‘avoid’ using a notary altogether. Sometimes the embassy or consulate of the country where your documents are going to will carry out the required tasks.
But not of all of them provides this service. For some countries you may have to pay a fee for each document they deal with. Often it is necessary to make an appointment (or there is a lengthy period to wait before an appointment date).
For example, the US embassy will notarise certain types of documents (i.e. not all types of documents you may need to get notarised). They have an appointment system. The length of wait to get an appointment varies, sometimes running from a day to several weeks (depending on the time of the year). Currently, the embassy charges $50 per a seal they place on a document (i.e. for each document, but some documents require several notarisations which each would attract the $50 charge).
Why does it cost so much to notarise a document
Why does it cost so much just for you to put your signature and seal on a document (which only takes a minute?)
Why does it cost so much to certify a copy of a document as a true copy?
Most people rarely ever need a notary. For matters or transactions etc in England you do not need a notary. The result is that the role of a notary, and what s/he has to do are largely unknown.
A very common view is that the only role a notary has it put their seal and signature on a document after a person a signs a document, or on a copy of a document. Other than that a notary has nothing else to do. That is the notary is not concerned with (or should not be concerned with) the matter, transaction etc the client is involved in.
This is not so. For every client a notary sees a notary must do a number of things:
- identify the client
- understand why the client wants to sign a document or have a document copied
- prepare a document which is attached to the signed or copied document which contains certain information (or write that information on to the document signed by the client or the copy of a document)
- make (and keep) a record of what has occurred
None of these are optional, but do mean that for something as simple as certifying a copy of a person’s passport the cost can seem quite high. As a comparison, solicitors are often ask to certify copies of documents. As a solicitor I would not need normally to do any of the above. Most solicitors would just write on a photocopy of the document words such as
‘I certify that this is a true copy of the original’
and then add their signature, print (or use a rubber stamp to add) their name and firm details and state the date, and that would be that. For an example of a notarised copy of a passport see the attached, and the equivalent what a solicitor might do. For a breakdown on time spent and costs involved in dealing with a copy of a passport as a notary and as a solicitor see this document.
But if you need several documents copied and certified by a notary, the cost per a document becomes much less. It is not necessary to identify you and create separate records for each document. Also with the use of computer and standard templates much of the details regarding you are the same from document to document.
Can I notarise a document you need to sign without me seeing you signing it?
It is far more convenient for you to simply sign a document and then send it to a notary to notarise the document, rather than making time to go to a notary.
Although this is the simplest solution for you, in most situations such an approach will not work. Essentially because notaries in other countries operate based according to two critical assumptions:
- that the client and the notary will always meet; and
- where a client needs to sign a document s/he must always sign it in front of the notary
Notaries and others in other countries will at least assume these will occur if the document to be signed is in fact signed in England.
Accordingly, it is unlikely that I will be prepared to (or can) notarise a document which needs signing, but which is not in fact signed in my presence. See this page for further details and the guidance given to notaries on how to deal with documents which are not signed in the presence of a notary.
Statutory declarations and affidavits for use in the United Kingdom
If you wish to make a statutory declaration or affirm/swear an affidavit for use within the UK then you should be aware of the following:
- a lawyer can only charge £5 for each statutory declaration/affidavit (plus £2 for each exhibit or attachment);
- these amounts are imposed by law (the £5 and £2 amounts have not changed since 1993);
- these amounts are only to take the declaration or affirmation and nothing else. That is:
- the act of the person making a declaration or an affirmation; by way of
- stating that the contents of the statutory declaration or affidavit are true;
- not covered within the £5 are things such as follows:
- travelling to / from the place the person is;
- helping the person draft the contents of the statutory declaration / affidavit;
- making the statutory declaration / affidavit comply with the formal rules for a statutory declaration / affidavit (such as adding any required wording); or
- advising the person on the legal effect of statutory declaration / affidavit;
How I deal with statutory declarations and affidavits for use in the UK
If you wish me to deal with a statutory declaration or affidavit which is for use within the UK, then I can do so. But I only do so in my capacity as a notary, which means that I will need to comply with the the duties imposed on me as a notary, including:
- identifying you in the way described on the Identifying you page of this website; and
- keeping a detailed record of what I have done.
For these tasks I will need to charge in addition to £5. I will normally charge my minimum charge of £75.00 (if the client comes to see me).
The changing approach of some lawyers
Some English solicitors now argue that since the £5 figure was last set in 1993, the rules on money laundering and anti-terrorism have tightened, and that for anyone that they see (even for some thing where they can only charge £5) they will still need to identify the client and set them up as a client in their records (and charge accordingly for those tasks). These are additional tasks and do not come with the statutory definition of what is covered by the £5 charge.
There is also a second reason why some solicitors wish to charge more than £5. If a solicitor simply certifies a copy of a passport of a person, or takes a person’s statutory declaration without identifying the person’s identity, and the passport or the declaration is false then the solicitor could be liable to a third party who has relied on the certified copy of the passport or the statutory declaration. That third party could sue the solicitor on the basis that s/he has not carried out her/his duties properly. All lawyers carry professional indemnity insurance. Without carrying out reasonable checks on the identity of the person making the statutory declaration the solicitor’s professional indemnity insurer may not cover the solicitor in the event of claim against the solicitor.
However, this is a view of some solicitors, not all. Some solicitors remain content to charge only £5 for taking a statutory declaration or an affirmation for an affidavit.
- a person says they wish to sell a house they say they own (the Seller).
- the Seller instructs a firm of solicitors to sell the house (at £500,000).
- the solicitors, in order to comply with money laundering and other regulatory requirements needs to identify the Seller.
- the Seller does not live close to the solicitors, so the solicitors tell the Seller to go to a local firm of solicitors to get his ID checked and for the local solicitors to provide certified copies of their ID.
- the local solicitors take the Seller’s passport and simply makes a photocopy of the photo page and writes ‘certified to be a true copy’ and signs and dates it. The local solicitor charges £5.
- the Seller sends it his solicitors.
- the house is sold, the purchaser pays the money (which the purchaser obtained by mortgage from a bank) to the Seller’s solicitors.
- the Seller’s solicitors pay the money to the Seller.
- The purchaser wants to move in but finds that the Seller was in fact not the owner. The Seller obtain a copy of the title deeds and got a false set of ID documents made in the name of the true owner.
- The purchaser wants his money back but the Seller cannot be found. The purchaser’s mortgage company also want the money back. They both argue that the Seller’s solicitors were negligent. The Seller’s solicitors argue they were not as they relied on the certification of the local solicitor.
- The purchaser will sue the Seller’s solicitors who will in turn sue the local solicitor.
- the local solicitor in such circumstances will normally make a claim on his professional indemnity insurance. But the professional indemnity insurer will argue that the local solicitors was negligent in not properly identifying the Seller (and keeping proper records of the steps undertaken). They refuse to pay.
- the local solicitor will personally have to pay £500,000 plus the legal and other costs of the Seller’s solicitors, the purchaser’s and mortgage company’s solicitors etc.
If you wish to pay only £5, what you will have to do
If you wish to pay only £5, then you will need to approach firms of solicitors and let them to know that you wish to make a statutory declaration or affirm an affidavit. And before you go to the firm, ask how much they will charge.
Last updated: 7 February 2021