Historical overview of the office of Notary Public
Notaries Public (also called "notaries", "notarial officers", or "public notaries") hold an office which can trace its origins back to the ancient Roman Republic, before Cicero 106-43 B.C., when they were called "scribae" ("scribes"), tabellius ("writer"), or notarius ("notary"). They are easily the oldest continuing branch of the legal profession worldwide.
The office of a public notary is a public office. It has a long and distinguished history. The office has its origin in the civil institutions of ancient Rome. Public officials, called scribae, that is to say, scribes, rose in rank from being mere recorders of facts and judicial proceedings, copiers and transcribers to a learned profession prominent in private and public affairs. Some were permanent officials attached to the Senate and courts of law whose duties were to record public proceedings, transcribe state papers, supply magistrates with legal forms, and register the decrees and judgments of magistrates.
In the last century of the Republic, probably in the time of Cicero, and apparently by his adoptive son Marcus Tullius Tiro, after whom they were named 'notae Tironianae' a new form of shorthand was invented and certain arbitrary marks and signs, called notae, were substituted for words in common use. A writer who adopted the new method was called a notarius. Originally, a notary was one who took down statements in shorthand using these notes, and wrote them out in the form of memoranda or minutes. Later, the title notarius was applied almost exclusively to registrars attached to high government officials, including provincial governors and secretaries to the Emperor.
Notwithstanding the collapse of the Western Empire in the 5th century AD, the notary remained a figure of some importance in many parts of continental Europe throughout the Dark Ages. When the civil law experienced its renaissance in medieval Italy from the 12th century onwards, the notary was established as a central institution of that law, a position which still obtains in countries whose legal systems are derived from the civil law, including most of Europe and South America. The office of notary reached its apogee in the Italian city of Bologna in the twelfth century, its most distinguished scion being Rolandino Passeggeri generally known as Rolandino of Bologna, who died in 1300 AD, whose masterwork was the Summa Artis Notariae.
In South-Africa (insert)
Traditionally, notaries recorded matters of judicial importance as well as private transactions or events where an officially authenticated record or a document drawn up with professional skill or knowledge was required.
Generally speaking, a notary public is a practicing attorney whose public office and duty it is to draw, attest or certify under his official seal deeds and other documents, including wills or other testamentary documents, conveyances of real and personal property and powers of attorney; to authenticate such documents under his signature and official seal in such a manner as to render them acceptable, as proof of the matters attested by him, to the judicial or other public authorities in the country where they are to be used, whether by means of issuing a notarial certificate as to the due execution of such documents or by drawing them in the form of public instruments; to keep a protocol containing originals of all instruments which he makes in the public form and to issue authentic copies of such instruments; to administer oaths and declarations for use in proceedings, to note or certify transactions relating to negotiable instruments, and to draw up protests or other formal papers relating to occurrences on the voyages of ships and their navigation as well as the carriage of cargo in ships."