Notaries Public

A notary public (also referred to as a public notary or notary) is a public officer, usually a practicing solicitor, appointed for life by State/Territory Supreme Courts (except in Queensland where they are still appointed by an English Archbishop). On their appointment they are given statutory powers to witness documents, administer oaths and provide other wide-ranging administrative functions of a national and international nature.

The Notaries Public Act 1990 (commenced 1 March 1993) provides for the appointment, enrolment and discipline of notaries public in Tasmania. The Supreme Court is responsible for assessing and appointing notaries public.

While Justices of the Peace can witness documents and administer oaths in Australia, notaries public have the exclusive right to do the same for international documents for use outside Australia.

Most Australian notaries public are lawyers, but not many choose to take up this responsibility. In Tasmania, with a population of approximately half a million, there are only 11 currently listed on the Roll, with the majority based in the south of the State – eight in Hobart, two in Launceston and one in Burnie.

What does a Notary Public do?

The principle functions of a notary public are to:

  • attest documents and certify their due execution for use in Australia and overseas countries;
  • prepare and certify powers of attorney, wills, deeds, contracts and other legal documents, for use in Australia and overseas countries;
  • 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 overseas countries;
  • verify documents for use in Australia and overseas countries;
  • certify copy documents for use in Australia and overseas countries;
  • exemplify official documents for use internationally;
  • note and protest bills of exchange; and
  • prepare ships’ protests.

The duty of a notary is to the transaction as a whole, and not just to one of the parties. In certain circumstances a notary may act for both parties to a transaction as long as there is no conflict between them, and in such cases it is his or her duty to ensure that the transaction concluded is fair to both sides.

A notary will often need to place and complete a special clause onto or attach a special page (known as an eschatocol) to a document in order to make it valid for use overseas. In the case of some documents which are to be used overseas, it may also be necessary to obtain another certificate known either as an “authentication” or an “apostille” from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Seals and Signatures

A notary public identifies himself/herself on documents by the use of their individual seal. These seals have historical origins and are regarded by most other countries as of great importance for establishing the authenticity of a document. The notary affixes their official seal or stamp on to documents immediately under, adjacent or as near as possible to their signatures.

While it was once usual for Australian notaries to use an embossed seal with a red wafer, some now use a red inked stamp that contains the notary’s full name and the words “notary public”. It is also common for the seal or stamp to include the notary’s chosen logo or symbol.

These seals and signatures are officially recorded in a database maintained by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The Department is authorised to issue Apostille or Authentication Certificates certifying that the signatures, seals or stamps of notaries public on Australian public documents are genuine.

The signatures, seals or stamps of notaries public are also registered with State/Territory Supreme Courts and the local Notary Society if one exists and they are a member. In Tasmania notaries public are answerable to the Supreme Court.

A current list of Tasmanian Notaries Public can be found here.