Notarial Practice and the History of Notaries


England & Wales

Notaries are specialised lawyers who prepare, authenticate and keep records of the due execution of legal documents.

The office derives from Roman law and the Civil law tradition. In England and Wales, where solicitors and barristers form the predominant part of the legal profession, the particular function of notaries is to verify documents for use abroad.

It is because the notary’s role is to authenticate or verify legal documents that he is completely impartial and his first duty is not simply to his client but to all who place reliance on his notarial acts and certificates.

As in England a notary’s acts are normally to be used abroad, his training is in foreign laws as well as English law and his role is to act as a bridge between the English legal system and other foreign systems of law.

Scrivener Notaries have particular expertise in preparing notarial acts in foreign languages and in accordance with the laws prevailing in foreign countries and are proud to be members of the International Union of Notaries (UINL).

History of Notaries

The office of Notary Public has its origin in Roman times. Notaries were originally scribes or copiers, but developed into a learned profession, respected for their knowledge of technical matters. Notaries were often attached to the court and prepared and engrossed deeds and other legal documents, which were then sealed under the seal of the court and thus rendered “public acts”. Eventually, notaries were granted the right to use their own official seals to give their acts “public” status. Throughout Europe, but not in England, it became a requirement that many documents, for matters such as the transfer of land or property on death, should be in this public form (i.e. verified and recorded by a notary) as a pre-condition for their validity.
In England, in contrast, notaries were used primarily to verify and certify documents to enable them to be used abroad, in those countries where notarial certification was normally required for important transactions.
Since 1279, when the Pope delegated the power, or faculty, to appoint notaries to the Archbishop of Canterbury, all notaries in England have been appointed through his Court of Faculties. The President of the Court of Faculties is a judge of the High Court and is known as the Master of the Faculties. The Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 expressly preserved the jurisdiction of the Court of Faculties over notaries and, in particular, the powers of the Master of the Faculties to make rules for the education and training of notaries.
 crivener Notaries
There are about 1,000 qualified notaries in England and Wales, the vast majority of whom are primarily solicitors who practise additionally as notaries.
Scrivener Notaries form a small and more specialised branch of the profession, which for historical reasons exists only in London. Here, in the main centre for international legal and commercial activity, the need arose – and continues – for a more specialised and highly trained body of notaries. All notaries practising in Scrivener firms such as Saville & Co. practise exclusively as notaries and have additional qualifications in languages and notarial practice: each Scrivener Notary has passed exams in two foreign languages as well as the law of a foreign jurisdiction, as it relates to notarial practice, usually having spent up to six months abroad to gain in-depth knowledge and experience of the particular foreign legal system. They are therefore highly professional and experienced in all aspects of notarial practice and are competent to deal with documents intended for use anywhere in the world.
As a Firm of Scrivener and General Notaries, Saville & Co. can therefore offer clients the combined expertise of all our notaries in a wide number of European and other languages and legal systems. We currently have four partners who are all Scrivener notaries, one partner who is a General notary, three associate notaries and three trainee notaries who are en route to qualifying as a Scrivener Notary.
Scrivener Notaries are members of The Scriveners’ Company, an active livery company in the City of London. As the body in charge of the training and admission of Scrivener notaries, it remains today one of the few Livery Companies having direct control over the profession of its members, a control which it has maintained at least since 1373.