Common and Civil Law

International legal systems are principally based on common law or civil law.

Common law

The English common law system is the law upon which the laws of most Commonwealth countries and every state of the United States of America (except Louisiana) are based.

Notaries in England and Wales have quite different roles from Notaries in other jurisdictions. Notaries in England and Wales act as independent professionals whereas Notaries in most other jurisdictions are appointed by the state. Notaries in England and Wales deal with the requirements of other countries’ laws, whereas Notaries in other jurisdictions often play a leading role in the administration of their own countries’ legal systems. Notaries in other jurisdictions do not deal with anything relating to the laws of other countries.


Although principally a common law country, many American Notaries are different from both their English and Welsh counterparts and Notaries in civil law countries. No legal training is required to become a Notary in the USA, and novices only take a very short and straightforward test. Notaries in the USA have a limited role to act as impartial witnesses and take acknowledgments (witness signatures). They usually undertake that role in the particular district to which they are appointed and for a specific term, typically four years.

Civil law

The European civil law system has influenced many other countries including most of South America.

As state-appointed officials Notaries in civil law countries are often charged by their governments with providing legal security for parties entering into contracts. These could relate to property, inheritance, family, commercial law, company law or other matters.

For example, a French notaire is a public official similar to a registrar of births, marriages and deaths in the UK. However, the notaire fulfils a different role which relates particularly to the purchase and registration of land.

Notaries in England and Wales

The information on this website applies to Notaries in England and Wales only, not Scotland and Northern Ireland. This is because Scotland and Northern Ireland have different legal systems and Notaries have different routes to qualification in those countries as well.

Notaries in England and Wales are obliged to accept instructions from anyone, except in situations where fraud or violence are involved.