According to Brooke’s Notary (13th Edition) by Nigel P. Ready, notaries originated in ancient Rome.
Back then, these public officials were called scribae (or scribes) and their duties consisted of recording facts and judicial proceedings, copying and transcribing documents, providing legal forms to magistrates, and registering judgments and decrees.
The word “notary” came about when a new form of shorthand was invented. The marks and symbols were referred to as notae, and an individual who wrote in shorthand was called a notarius.
In Italy, notaries belong to the Latin notarial system. According to Notariato.it, the system is rooted in providing unbiased advice, reducing disputes after a transaction, and protecting third parties such as the state.
England’s notaries were introduced in 1279 when the Pope authorized the Archbishop of Canterbury to appoint them. As a result, many notaries during that time were members of the clergy. When the clergy stopped participating in secular business, laypersons assumed the functions.
In 1533, the Ecclesiastical Licences Act terminated the Pope’s power to appoint notaries, and that power was transferred to the King, who, in turn, transferred it to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who assigned it to the Court of Faculties.
During that time, the notary’s job was to record matters of judicial importance, as well as to prepare private transactions and officially authenticated documents or records.
Today, the UK’s Faculty Office admits and regulates the notaries in England and Wales. Their duties include “the preparation and execution of legal documents for use abroad, attesting the authenticity of deeds and writings, and protesting bills of exchange.”
In Canada, the powers of a notary public are derived from provincial legislation. The primary function of a Canadian notary is to prevent fraud by witnessing signatures, administering oaths, taking affidavits and declarations, and certifying copies of original documents.
In Ontario, the Ontario Notaries Act provides that any lawyer in good standing can apply to become a notary public by submitting an application to the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services. Furthermore, any person who is licensed to practise law under the Law Society Act automatically becomes a commissioner of oaths.
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