History of Notary Public in South-Africa

The office of notary has its origin in the scribes of ancient times. The Hebrew, Greek and Roman scribes were employed by the illiterate to do their legal and other writing. In Latin the word “notarius” means “secretary” or “shorthand writer”. In the Roman empire notarii were at first used to prepare contracts, wills and other documents of which some record was required. In the late Roman empire they were used as the writers of public documents.

In Holland a placaat was enacted in 1524 which limited the number of notaries. Subsequent legislation dealt with qualifications for admission to the office of notary and other details of their practice. A placaat of 1540 required notaries to keep an accurate register and protocol of all documents passed before them.

In South Africa commissioners Jansens and De Mist issued “Regulations and instructions for notaries in the government of the Cape of Good Hope” in 1793. Two notaries were appointed in terms of the regulations. In 1858 an enactment was passed in the Cape dealing with the admission of notaries. Similar enactments were passed in the South African Republic and the Orange Free State. In Natal appointments were made by the government until 1934.

The provisions of the colonial and republican legislatures were replaced by the Attorneys, Notaries and Conveyancers Admission Act of 1934 which was subsequently consolidated in the Attorneys Act of 1979. The Attorneys Act now provides for examinations in the practice, functions and duties of notaries, the admission or readmission of notaries, and their enrolment.

See Elliott The South African Notary5–6; Van der Merwe Notariële Praktyk

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