1. CIVIL LAW NOTARIES Alongside the courts, legal systems have developed institutional mechanisms whose objective is to increment security in economic transactions. These mechanisms raise the guarantees given by parties with respect to the fulfilment of contractual agreements. In this sense, the existence of authenticated public documents and registries lends a hand in increasing levels of certainty in transactions and reducing the expected level of litigation. When we refer to notaries, it is important to be clear that notaries in common law countries exercise a very different role from notaries in civil law systems. In a country such as the United States, a notary is a ‘citizen of high moral character and integrity’ whose activities consist of witnessing and certifying documents and taking attestations and depositions, but he does not practice law. In fact lawyers are the only people entitled to give legal advice. The civil law notary – often called ‘Latin notary’ – however is a member of a legal profession who not only witnesses and certifies the validity of documents but also is entitled to give legal advice and, in fact, is often required to do so by law. He writes the documents he certifies, guarantees their legality and sometimes plays a role in the legal system similar to that exercised by judges and lawyers in the common law.1 Official authentication grants a weight of ‘truthfulness’ otherwise nonexistent in documents of a strictly private nature. It is a function that is exclusively granted by the state. A significant number of...
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