The main function of a notary public, anywhere in the world, is to certify the truth and legitimacy of various matters. This could be a very short declaration regarding somebody’s marital status, a lengthy affidavit for use in court proceedings or a 500 page loan agreement involving many multi-national banks. In all cases though the notary’s duty is the same and so the procedure remains, more-or-less, identical.
Notaries across mainland Europe, as well as in England and Wales, such as Vanner Perez Notaries in London, will almost always bind documents together with a ribbon and seal. This method means that pages cannot be replaced or substituted without first spoiling the notarisation, and thus warning the receiving party that the document has been tampered with.
There is, as always, some complication though. The notarial profession in the United States is a rather different profession when compared to its European equivalent, and documents in the US are never bound at all! This causes problems for European notaries when they are dealing with the U.S. as the Notaries Society and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have both recommended that Notaries in England and Wales should always securely bind documents.
Generally binding documents for the United States doesn’t cause too many problems, as this request is usually made simply to make the documents easier to scan or fax when they are received in America. If a notary does not bind a document for use in Europe, however, there is the distinct possibility that the receiving party will reject it.
On top of these issues the Foreign Office will now no longer affix the apostille to documents which it considers to be improperly bound whereas, in the past, they were happy to turn a blind eye to what many consider to be bad practice. Although many notaries feel that the Foreign Office should not be telling notaries what to do, this does at least a degree of consistency between documents produced by English and Welsh notaries.
The practice of sealing documents is an ancient one, which goes hand-in-hand with the binding. The seal is impressed across the ends of the ribbon, thus making the document secure. Not only that, but each notary has a unique design of embossing seal, which makes the document considerably more difficult to reproduce.
Historically seals were made from wax, and the seal embossed into the wax. Health and safety laws, as well as the pressures of time, mean that seals are, by and large, now just paper stickers, glued to the page, across the ribbon, with the notary’s seal then embossed onto them.
Once a document is thus bound and sealed by a notary, and then finally signed by him, the document is practically completely tamper-proof, and can be relied upon almost without question, either at home or abroad.