A person who is appointed as a Notary Public can notarise documents – this means they witness and authenticate them, and certify their execution, so they can be used in foreign countries. It’s often required when overseas businesses or foreigners ask for documents that were issued in Singapore. For example, a foreign employer or educational institution might ask for a birth or marriage certificate, passports, identify documents, contracts, or deeds that are used or executed in Singapore. If they’re not familiar with these Singapore documents, foreigners rely on a Notary Public because they have no way of knowing if the documents were executed properly.
In other words, a Notary Public is a credible witness who can prove a document was correctly attested or is a verified copy of an original. Notarising a document is a bit like swearing an oath in court. In order to confirm the facts in a document are true, a person can sign a declaration in front of a Notary Public.
Notaries Public are found in nearly all countries, with powers depending on local law. In Singapore, for example, the Notary Public Act governs the work of Notaries Public.
Practising advocates and solicitors with seven or more years’ practice can be appointed as Notaries Public by the Senate of the Singapore Academy of Law (set out in s. 3 of the Notary Public Act).
The Singapore Academy of Law’s guidelines goes further than the Act – requiring that an applicant must have practiced for fifteen years, and be at least forty years old.
Applicants must also be ‘fit and proper’ people. For example, if someone has been declared bankrupt, or struck off the professional register of advocates, or been found guilty of any type of misconduct, then they cannot be appointed. The appointment will be revoked if one of these circumstances arises after an appointment.
Applications will be rejected if the prospective Notary Public had any disciplinary proceedings against them which resulted in penalties. If the proceedings didn’t result in penalties being imposed, the complaint will still be investigated by the Senate before making their decision.
The term of an appointment is one year, but a person may be reappointed from year to year. Applying for reappointment is important, because if anyone acts as a Notary Public without authorisation, then they are committing an offence and may be fined up to $10,000.
A Notary Public in Singapore has the same powers and functions as an English Notary Public, according to the Notary Public Act. A Notary Public’s role is to prevent fraud. They do this by making sure that anyone executing a document does so freely and voluntarily, understanding what is happening, and not under the influence of intoxication or medication or anything else which affects their capacity for understanding.
The powers and functions of a Notary Public are set out in section 4(3) of the Act:
Administering an affirmation or oath to any affidavit or statutory declaration:
These functions and powers can be grouped into certain types of notarisations:
Sometimes there are certain formalities, required by law, which apply to the signing of a document – such as it being signed by a minimum number of people, in the presence of each other. Often this applies when signing deeds, contracts, or documents used to incorporate companies or power of attorney documents used overseas. The role of the Notary Public is to witness the process and verify the document’s signature and execution.
Copies of certain documents can be certified as true by a Notary Public – for example, birth or marriage certificates, passports, and educational certificates or testimonials. The term ‘certified copy’ simply means that it’s a true copy of the original document. Certification does not prove the original document is genuine – the Notary only certifies that the copy is a true copy of the original.
This occurs when someone makes a written statement or statutory declaration for use outside of Singapore, confirming statements or documents are true. It usually refers to facts known to the person making the statement or declaration. The statement can be taken by the Notary public, or sometimes they will attest it, administer an affirmation/oath relating to it, and use their official seal to certify it.
A ship’s master may want to record what is known as a ‘ship’s protest’ if a ship enters port after bad weather or an accident. It is basically a statement made under oath to protect the ship’s owner/master/crew from liability for damage to the ship or its cargo. The ship’s protest states that any damage was caused by the perils of the sea, rather than negligence on the part of the crew or master. The Notary Public can use their authority to administer an oath and record the declaration.
The holder of a bill of exchange which has been dishonoured (either by non-acceptance or non-payment) can ask a Notary Public to note the dishonour and protest the bill of exchange. A bill of exchange is where one party orders another party to pay another party a fixed amount of money on demand. It is like a cheque, where the party ordered to pay is the bank. Non-acceptance or non-payment of the bill would cause the bill holder to be unable to collect money, and in this case they can protest the bill by requesting a Notary Public’s services.
In order to prove notarisation and prevent tampering with the document, the Notary Public will issue a notarial certificate, attached to the notarised document. A red ribbon must be used to bind all documents in the prescribed form. A seal issued by the Singapore Academy of Law must be used to seal the certificate, affixed over the ribbon that runs through the certificate.
There is a requirement in some foreign countries for the notarisation to be authenticated. Here, an authentication certificate will be issued by the Singapore Law Academy which verifies that the Notary is practising lawfully, and verifies their signature.
Further verification is needed by some foreign agencies that the person is indeed a Notary Public. Sometimes the signature also needs to be verified by the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Sometimes, in order to verify the origin of the documents, they may need to be legalised by the consulate or embassy of the foreign country, using an official stamp and signature on the document.
Fees for notarial services are usually set by law and are non-negotiable. Fees are published in the First Schedule of the Notaries Public Rules. In the case of other services not mentioned in the schedule, a ‘reasonable rate’ may be charged by the Notary Public. ‘Reasonable’ depends on the nature and complexity of the services performed.
For a Notary to certify a copy of a document, you will need to present the original document, so that the Notary can compare the copy with the original. Usually, this process takes between 30 and 45 minutes, but to speed up the process you may scan and email your documents 24 hours ahead of your appointment time.
If you need to sign a document in a Notary Public’s presence, then this must be done in front of them – you can prepare the statement beforehand, but don’t sign until you are in the same room as the Notary and they witness it.
If your document is in a foreign language then it may be wise to provide an English translation by an official interpreter. If you need help with this, you can ask us for useful contacts to enable this. A translation may not be needed if the Notary is only asked to witness and attest the signature. However, the guidelines state that it would be wise to sign the original and also an English translation. If you need an official translation, check with us.
You should take your identification document with you to see the Notary – they must be able to verify your identity.
Enquire with the relevant foreign agency as to the exact notarising requirements before approaching a Notary Public. The Singapore Notaries Public Act is made under Singapore Law and will be familiar for usual notarial services, but you should check if there are any further requirements from your specific foreign agency.
Lastly, please remember that you will need to book an appointment with SAL (Singapore Academy of Law: https://legalisation.sal.sg/) in order to get your documents legalised. SAL will seal the certificate. If you are unsure about this aspect, your Notary Public will be able to guide you.