Can a Notarised Document ever be amended or “Corrected”?
The purpose of preparing a document and then executing it before a Notary Public in England and Wales, is usually to comply with the laws and/or conventions of Countries outside England and Wales. Because of those laws, the foreign jurisdiction will accept that the document is genuine if it is notarised (and then legalised with Foreign Office and/or Consular stamps where necessary).
So it seems pretty obvious that the basic rule is, that once Notarised, the document is final. Further, that any later amendment or alteration will either be treated as if it had not been made, or may have the effect of rendering the document as unacceptable as if it had been torn up.
But – Example Number One
The preparation of a document and its notarisation and legalisation is not a trivial matter.. It costs money, and it costs time. What if five members of a family have travelled to my office from their separate homes all over UK, to execute a court document together. This can be a nightmare of logistics to arrange. Then the foreign lawyer realises a week later that the paperwork – which he originally prepared and which is now completed – is very slightly incorrect – perhaps the passport number of a foreign Attorney has been given incorrectly. The signatories say – we cannot regroup for another six months, one of us has left for a cruise round the world, we cannot afford to pay the fees again.
They tell the lawyer that it will be a long time before another such document can be prepared and that they will expect him to pay all of the wasted fees. He says – “No, I won’t pay for this and anyway the paper is needed for a Court hearing now and six months later is no good. ” So, everyone asks me “Please just amend the document to correct his slight error.”
Let’s say that the document is still in my hands, it has just been returned to me after legalisation. It has not been sent to the foreign jurisdiction, no-one there has yet seen it or relied upon it.
What do you think is the right thing for me to do?
If you were sitting your exams to be a Notary, I think you would unwise to say anything other than that – “NO this cannot be done. A paper was executed (signed) and dated by five people all together on the same day. It is a completed paper “all done and dusted”.”
(Incidentally, that very expression which is a cliché now meaning “irrevocable” does, I believe, derive from the use of sand or powder to dust and dry ink on a document once everyone has written and signed and witnessed it.)
Example number Two
Imagine a document again all completed and stamped, and sent out by me to Spain a month ago. It is a Power of Attorney appointing a lawyer Don. X there to act for my English client. Now it is returned to me, the foreign law firm tells me that Don. X has left their firm, but that Dona. Y has replaced him there. The client phones me up to tell me that he is currently in Australia but that he is happy for Dona. Y to act for him and will I please alter the Power of Attorney.
There are other instances arising often in a Notary’s practice – many times the foreign Lawyer wants a Deed to be executed with blanks in it – to be filled in later! At least those cases do not present too much of a dilemma – the only possible course is to refuse to assist unless I can write against the blanks in permanent ink “This section of this Deed is blank as at the date of my Certification”
And I believe in example Number 2 there is also no doubt, no alteration can be made. The Deed must be formally revoked and replaced with a new one.
But speaking for myself, I think I might be persuaded to allow the requested alteration to Number 1.
Even in the case of number 1, many of my Notary colleagues would take the view that no amendment can be made.
Am I right – is it a question of degree, or “de minimis” do you think? Can the judgement of a Notary be relevant – or should the letter of the law always apply whatever the inconvenience and cost?
Let us hope that for your own documents it is never necessary to have to consider the point – the obvious lesson is that every effort should be made to ensure that your document is entirely correct and complete at the outset.