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CONTENTS:

Terms of use

Home

What is a notary public?

Notarial practice

Authentication of the notarial act

Fees

"My commission expires ..."

When a notary will decline to intervene

Copies of academic and education credentials

Foreign language documents

International wills

The origins of the notary's seal

About me


David Thomas Banner


3, Sussex Terrace, Hawthorn, South Australia 5062
Telephone: 0435 588 775
(International: + 61 435 588 775)
E-mail


"My commission expires ..."


These words often appear in pre-printed notarial acknowledgements and certificates on documents emanating from USA. They arise from an unfounded assumption that notaries throughout the world are appointed for fixed terms, as they are in USA.

According to the US National Notary Association, there were over 4.4 million notaries in USA in 2017. In most jurisdictions of USA, notaries public are appointed under local legislation by state governors or secretaries of state, who issue “commissions” of appointment. The commissions are for fixed terms, between 2 years and 10 years, depending on the appointing jurisdiction, and are effective only within the boundaries of the appointing jurisdiction. Thus, the authority of a US notary is strictly limited temporally and territorially. This is why US notaries must disclose the date of expiry of their commissions when they “notarize” a document, as well as on their official stamps and seals.

US notaries are ministerial officers whose powers and functions are strictly limited. They have minimal power to exercise independent judgment or discretion. Their principal functions are the taking of acknowledgements and the administration of oaths for US domestic purposes. Qualifications for appointment are usually minimal and few US notaries are practising lawyers. The nearest Australian equivalent to a US notary is a justice of the peace.

Australian notaries are very different from US notaries. They are senior lawyers in private practice and their functions are almost exclusively concerned with documents and transactions in or concerning foreign jurisdictions. Australian notaries are not ministerial officers and are expected, subject to law, to exercise independent skill, judgment and discretion in the performance of their functions.

In the State of South Australia, notaries public are appointed by the Supreme Court of South Australia (“the Court”) under the Notaries Public Act 2016 (“the Act”). Appointment is open only to a person who —

The Act provides that a notary public only ceases to be a notary public if —

South Australian legislation governing notaries public (dating back to 1859) has never provided for expiry of appointments, nor for the issue of commissions of appointment.

Therefore, the question implicit in the words “My commission expires ...” has no application to South Australian notaries.