A civil-law notary is a lawyer who is licensed by the Dutch government to perform acts in legal affairs, in particular witnessing signatures on documents. The most important task of notaries is to record agreements in notarial acts and deeds, to keep the acts on file, and to issue copies of them to the persons concerned.
A notary's duty is to screen the signers of important documents, such as property deeds, wills and powers of attorney, to confirm their true identity, their willingness to sign without duress or intimidation, and their awareness of the contents of the document or transaction, in order to deter fraud and to ensure that the deeds are properly executed.
Some notarisations also require the notary to put the signer under oath, declaring under penalty of perjury that the information contained in a document is true and correct.
A notary is bound by duty not to act in situations in which they have a personal interest. The notary’s screening tasks may not be corrupted by self-interest. Moreover, a notary may never refuse to serve a person due to race, nationality, religion, politics, sexual orientation, or status as a non-customer.
The notary is an impartial expert who represents the interests of all those involved in the drawing up of a notarial act or deed. Once a notarial act has been signed by the notary, the date of signature is deemed to be the date of the act in relation to everyone. From that point on, everyone can rely on the fact that the act has been signed by the persons mentioned as signatories.
Everyone who arranged for a notarial act to be drawn up receives a copy (also known as an ‘execution copy’), which enables him to prove the agreements it contains.
If a notarial act states that someone owes a sum of money and then the person in question fails to perform his/her obligations, the creditor may proceed directly to execution (i.e. the sale of the debtor’s goods) on the strength of the execution copy.
The notarial act is kept in perpetuity. If the notary ceases practicing, his records will be transferred to another notary (his successor).
Although civil-law notaries are public officials, they are not paid by the government. They obtain their income by charging fees, while providing free services in connection with other employment (for example, bank employees), or providing free services for the public good.