Before the Notary Public performs any notarial act, he or she must attempt to verify the matters to be certified. When it comes to fact checks, it is ethical for a Notary Public to take on a pro-active and inquisitorial role, instead of merely accepting information provided by the client.
Under civil law evidence rules, the standard of proof is ‘the balance of probabilities’. This rule provides guidance to Notary Publics facing the question of how far to go in investigating the facts they are called upon to certify.
In the case of Briginshaw v Briginshaw, the High Court of Australia indicated that in order to be ‘cautious and responsible’, one must be ‘reasonably satisfied’ with the facts in question before they consider the matter to be proven on the balance of probabilities.
When this principle is applied to the daily challenges faced by a Notary Public, a simple example would be the verification of the identity of a client. In this scenario, a cautious and responsible Notary Public may be reasonably satisfied of the authenticity of a signature after examining the signatory’s photo identification documents such as a valid passport, or driver license. On the other hand, the standard of proof is hardly met if the Notary Public is only shown a credit card which is alleged to display the client’s name.