Ask anyone if they know what a Notary Public is, and the most likely response you will get is a quizzical look or a raised eyebrow. Nonetheless, despite being obscure-sounding and relatively unknown, a Notary Public performs the important function of notarizing documents that are to be used overseas. Foreign persons, entities or institutions overseas, such as employers, immigration authorities, banks, any government agencies, educational institutions and lawyers may require the submission of documents used or executed locally in Singapore.
However, not only may they be unfamiliar with such documents but they may also find it difficult to verify if such documents have been properly executed and/or certified. The Notary Public, in such circumstances, being an independent and neutral party, performs the important role of assuring the foreign person, entity or institution that the submitted documents are validly executed and/or authentic. Currently, there are 649 Notaries Public in Singapore who have been appointed to perform these functions.
What does a Notary Public do?
Generally, as mentioned above, Notaries Public notarize (as the name suggests) documents and issue Notarial Certificates to show that these documents are valid and authentic. This can be broken down into several different types of notarizations:
#1 . Affidavits and statutory declarations
A Notary Public can take or attest any affidavit or statutory declaration. A Notary Public can also administer any oath or affirmation in connection with such affidavit or statutory declaration. Despite sounding rather complex, affidavits and statutory declarations are simply written statements made by persons upon taking an Oath or upon Affirming to the Notary Public that the statements and/or documents are true. The written statements often testify to some important fact known to the person who made it. The powers of a Notary Public in relation to such affidavits and statutory declarations extends only to those used outside of Singapore.
#2 . Witnessing execution of documents
Additionally, a Notary Public can also be a witness to the execution of documents in Singapore but which are to be used in another country. Generally, the execution of documents refers to the signing of the documents in accordance with the requisite formalities. For example, the law may require that the document be signed by a certain number of people, or in the presence of a number of witnesses. In the latter cases, a Notary Public may act as such a witness. This may happen, for example, in the signing of deeds, contracts, documents for the incorporation of a company or property transfers..
#3 . Certifying true copies
Moreover, a Notary Public can certify true copies of original documents. This means that the Notary Public will state that copies of the document are indeed true copies after examining the relevant documents. The Notary Public will do this by visually comparing the original documents with the copies. This usually happens when copies of important documents such as one’s birth certificate, educational certificates, testimonials, marriage certificate or any other documents need to be used overseas. Sometimes a Notary may be asked to certify that a document downloaded from an authoritative website, such as the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority of Singapore is a true document. This can only be done if the Notary personally downloads the document from the website and prints it out
#4 . Protesting Bills of Exchange
Another function of a Notary Public is to note and protest bills of exchange. A bill of exchange is an unconditional order in writing by one party to another that binds that other party to pay a fixed sum of money to yet another party, usually called the ‘ payee’ on demand or at a date fixed beforehand. In this sense, it is similar to a cheque , which is used by one person to pay a sum to money to another. Protesting the bill of exchange comes into play when it has been dishonored. Dishonoring a bill of exchange happens when the bill of exchange is not accepted, or where the payment required under it is not made, such that the holder of the bill of exchange is not able to collect the sum due. In such circumstances, the holder of the bill of exchange must enlist a Notary Public to note such dishonour on the bill of exchange.
#5 . Recording Ships’ Protests
Finally, Notaries Public may also record a Ship’s Protest. A Ship’s Protest is a declaration made under oath by the master of the ship stating that any damage caused to the ship or cargo was due to the perils of the sea, such as bad weather or a maritime accident, rather than due to the master or crew’s negligence. This is often done following the ship’s entry into port after a rough voyage. The purpose of a Ship’s Protest is to protect the shipowner, master or crew from any liability from damage to the cargo or the ship.
Proof of notarization
After making any of the above notarizations, a Notary Public will issue a Notarial Certificate as proof of notarization. The Notarial Certificate will be secured to the relevant document with a ribbon that runs through the Notarial Certificate, and sealed with a seal issued by the Singapore Academy of Law. This is to ensure that integrity of the notarization is maintained.
Authentication and verification of notarization
For certain documents, further steps must be taken in addition to notarization. The requirements of the foreign country may prescribe that the notarization be authenticated, in which case it will be authenticated by the Singapore Academy of Law. In doing so, the Singapore Academy of Law will give an Authentication certificate verifying that the notary is lawfully practicing as a notary and that it is indeed his/her signature on the document. Further requirements may prescribe that the notarization be verified, in which case it will be verified by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Finally, the documents may even need to be sent to the respective embassies and consulates of the foreign country to be legalized. The purpose of these requirements is to prove that the person who certified the document is indeed a notary public, or to verify the signature of the notary public. Generally, stricter requirements apply where the document is to be used in a non-Commonwealth country. This entire process is sometimes, in short, called the ‘chain of authentication’ by people who regularly deal with notarized documents.
What is an ‘Apostille’
Sometimes the foreign authority may ask you to get an ‘apostille’ or an ‘apostille certification’. Under the Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents 1961, the chain of authentication process is shortened. Under this Convention, documents executed in a territory that is a party to the Convention, which is to be used in another territory, which is also a party to the Convention, do not need to be legalised, ie, it does not have to go through the chain of authentication. All that is required in these circumstances is a simple certificate called the ‘apostille’ to be issued by the relevant authority in the territory from which the document is being issued that the document has been properly and legally notarised. Whilst this simplifies the process, Singapore is not a party to the Convention and because of this, Notaries in Singapore do not issue apostille certificates and the chain of authentication process is the only way of legalising documents, at least for now.
Who can be a Notary Public?
Only a practicing advocate and solicitor in Singapore may be appointed as a Notary Public. An advocate and solicitor in Singapore refers to someone who has a license to practice law in Singapore, and whose name is on the roll of advocates and solicitors of Singapore. Applications by such persons will be considered by the Board of Commissioners for Oaths and Notaries Public, who will decide who to appoint as Notaries Public. Apart from appointing Notaries Public, the Board of Commissioners for Oaths and Notaries Public also performs several other important functions:
- Looks into complaints made against Notaries Public alleged to have acted in breach of the conditions of their appointments
- Reviews the fees payable to Notaries Public
- Makes recommendations regarding the amendment of existing legislation or introduction of new legislation concerning Notaries Public.
The Board of Commissioners for Oaths and Notaries Public is made up of:
- A chairman who is part of the Senate of the Singapore Academy of Law;
- A judicial officer nominated by the Chief Justice;
- A public officer nominated by the Minister for Law;
- An advocate and solicitor nominated by the Law Society; and
- A secretary
In order to qualify for appointment, a lawyer must fulfill certain requirements. Under the law, the lawyer must have been practicing for at least 7 years. Moreover, the lawyer cannot have been bankrupt, struck off the roll of advocates and solicitors of Singapore, or found guilty of misconduct which makes him unfit for practicing as a Notary Public.
In practice, however, the guidelines are much stricter. Internal policy of the Singapore Academy of Law prescribes that the applicant must have at least 15 years of experience in active legal practice and/or legal service, and must be at least 40 years old. Where there have been disciplinary proceedings against an applicant which resulted in the imposition of penalties, the application will also be rejected. Where no penalty was imposed, the Board will still have to consider the merits of the case before coming to a conclusion.
Moreover, the Board generally applies a quota for the appointment of Notaries Public, depending on the size of the firm of the applicant. The larger the firm, the more generous the quota of Notaries Public per firm. This is to cater to the greater notarization needs of larger firms. The Singapore Academy of Law provides the following guidelines:
|Size of firm||Number of Notaries Public|
|1 to 5 lawyers||1 notary|
|6 to 10 lawyers||2 notaries|
|11 to 50 lawyers||3 notaries|
|50 to 80 lawyers||4 notaries|
|81 to 100 lawyers||5 notaries|
|101 to 150 lawyers||6 notaries|
|151 to 200 lawyers||8 notaries|
|201 to 250 lawyers||10 notaries|
An appointment of a person as a Notary Public lasts for only a year, but the person may be reappointed for each subsequent year if the Board so decides. This application process is important because is it an offence to exercise any of the functions of a Notary Public if one is not appointed as a Notary Public.
What are the fees payable to a Notary Public?
The law prescribes fixed fees for notarial services in Singapore. Some of these are:
|Notarial execution||By one person to any document||$40|
|For a second party to the same document||$20|
|For each additional party to the document||$10|
|For each exhibit marked on or attached to the document||$10|
|Certificate of declaration of due execution of any document||For one person||$75|
|For each additional party in the same certificate||$20|
|Execution by company or corporation with declaration and exhibit||$150|
|Certified true copies||Examining and certifying true copies per page (with seal)||$10 for first page, $2 for each subsequent page|
|Examining and certifying true copies per page (without seal)||$5 for first page, $1 for each subsequent page|
|Notarial Certificate and seal||$75|
|Notarial Certificate and seal on certificate of origin or consular invoices||$40|
|Statutory declaration||For one party||$40|
|For a second party to same declaration||$20|
|For each additional party to the declaration||$10|
|For each exhibit marked on or attached to the declaration||$10|
|Bill of Exchange||Noting||$50|
|Ships Protest||Noting Protest||$150|
|Registering Protest per page||$20|
The full list of prescribed fees can be found in the First Schedule to the Notaries Public Rules.
How can I find a Notary Public?
The Singapore Academy of Law provides an online directory of all Notaries Public in Singapore, along with their firm, address, and the languages that the firm can deal in. Firms deal in a wide range of languages, from English to Malay, Mandarin, Hindi, Tamil, Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew, Gujarati, Punjabi, and even Urdu. When looking for a Notary Public, it would be helpful to find one that is near your home or workplace, for convenience’s sake. You may also wish to find a firm that deals in languages that you are familiar with.
Are the Notary’s fees negotiable?
No. The fees charged by a Notary Public are prescribed by Notaries Public Rules and are not negotiable. If there are any other fees apart from the prescribed fees, you will need to discuss these with the Notary.
Can the Notary attend to me at my location to notarize documents?
Yes but check with the Notary first if he/she is willing to do so. The Notary will be entitled to charge additional fees for attending to you at your location for time spent and for transport.
What do I need to bring along to my meeting with the Notary?
If you are signing a document that needs to be signed before a Notary, apart from the document, bring along your identification document, which could be your identity card or your passport. If you are asking the Notary to certify documents to be true and correct copies of the original, bring along the originals for the Notary to compare the copies against the originals.
I have lost my original documents but I have a certified true copy. Can the notary still certify my document to be true and correct?
The Notary can only certify that the document is a true copy of the original certified true copy. He cannot certify that the copy is a true copy of the original if the original has not been produced to him to examine.
Must I be present at the Notary’s office or can I just send the documents to him/her?
If you are required to sign the document in the presence of a Notary, then you must be present before the Notary. The Notary will not witness your signature if you have not signed the document in his/her presence.
My document is not in the English language. Can the Notary witness my signature or certify a copy to be a true copy of the original?
Guidelines issued by the Singapore Academy of Law states that a Notary can do so as he/she is witnessing and attesting to the identity of the signature and not the validity of the contents of the document. However, the guidelines further provides that it would be prudent for a Notary to only witness a such a document when there is an English equivalent of the document translated by an official interpreter and the deponent, ie, you, sign both documents, ie, the document in the foreign language and the English translation. Whilst it would be prudent for the Notary to ask for a translation, it may not be necessary and this will depend on whether the Notary is comfortable with the document. It would be best to check with the Notary in advance but do note that in any case, the Notary has discretion in deciding whether he/she will notarise any document. Certifying a copy to be a true copy of the original document which is in another language, should not pose a problem if the original is produced.
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This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to a practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Interstellar Group Pte. Ltd. accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.