When a Notary Public certifies a copy of an original document the copy is known as a certified copy. All this means, is that the copy is a true copy of the original document. It should be noted, that this does not constitute an ‘authentication’ of the original document or of the copy itself.
It is a common misconception in jurisdictions outside Australia that when a Notary Public certifies a copy of a document of the document that they are also certifying the content and authenticity of the original document. As such, it is often necessary for Notary Publics to amend their notarial certificate to reflect and emphasize the fact that the Notary Public is only certifying that the copy is a true copy of the original document and that they are not authenticating the truth of the contents of the document.
However, a Notary Public may be asked to undertake investigations into the authenticity of original document/s. In such circumstances, a Notary Public should always limit their investigation to what they know or are satisfied that they can prove.
- Sydney Notary Services – Proof of Identity by Credible Witnesses
Verifying the identity of an individual through the oath of a credible witnesses can be traced back to ancient Rome and remains a method for proving a person’s identity that is still widely used in common law countries even today.
In the United States, many State laws expressly provide for the verification of a person’s identity by oath of a witness. In Australia, however, it is not practiced widely despite there being some movement towards embracing this practice in recent decades.
For the above reason, an Australian Notary Public who needs to verify the identity of a person through the oath of a witness may look to other jurisdictions for guidance. For example, in Florida a Notary Public must be satisfied that each of the following requirement is met:
- That the person whose signature is to be notarized is the person named in the document;
- That the person whose signature is to be notarized is personally known to the witnesses;
- That it is the reasonable belief of the witnesses that the circumstances of the person whose signature is to be notarized are such that it would be very difficult or impossible for that person to obtain another form of acceptable identification;
- That it is the reasonable belief of the witness that the person whose signature is to be notarized does not possess any of the identification documents specified [elsewhere in the legislation]; and
- That the witnesses do not have a financial interest in, nor are parties to the underlying transaction.
In practice, a Notary Public need to exercise caution and be reasonably satisfied that the witnesses are persons of integrity with proper understanding of the role they play in verifying the identification of another person. The Notary Public can be so satisfied either through personal knowledge of the witnesses, or from the positions of trust the witnesses hold within the community. If the above requirement can be met, then proof of identity by credible witness poses no greater risk than verification of identification through identity documents.