Before beginning, I would like to thank the College of Notaries in Australia and New Zealand, and in particular Peter Zablud, for inviting me to speak on behalf of the World Organisation of Notaries as its inaugural President and in this wonderful setting to kick-off the conference here in Bologna.

I welcome all of you. I am sure you are as interested as I am to hear our colleagues enlighten us on the various legal systems and jurisdictions that we all operate in and under, to learn and be better prepared—for example, when an Australian or New Zealand Notary requires documentation executed by a Notary in one of our jurisdictions. Generally, as you all know, two legal systems have developed—civil law and common law. A common denominator is the use of Notaries Public to either drive the system or complement it.

Notaries have been an integral part of the fabric of our respective systems for centuries—which leads me to the topic of my discussion before you here today. The World Organisation of Notaries has been born from a desire for Notaries to be able to communicate with and learn from other Notaries in common law jurisdictions. Many of the civil code countries of the world belong to an organisation known as the UINL, whose membership numbers more than 76 countries. A well-established organisation with roots beginning in 1949, UINL has continued to expand and serve its member countries well.

Although there are common law Notary organisations among us today that have participated with the UINL, due to UINL rules and regulations we have never been able to become official members of the UINL. Therefore, when attending conferences, our ability to set agendas and speak about our issues as common law Notaries has always been very limited. We have had no forum to speak about our issues as common law Notaries.

I must state that the UINL has always embraced us and made us feel very much at home when we attended their major events. Those events and the communications that flowed from them are part of the reason for the formation of W.O.N.

The world has become a much smaller place and that has seen an effect on the common law Notary when dealing with other Notaries internationally. There has been no official body to represent our common law interests. When an issue has arisen with a common law Notary organisation, that organisation has, for the most part, had to go it alone—with varying degrees of success.

A present day example of an issue affecting a Notary organisation is the ongoing proposal from the Council of the Notariats of the European Union (CNUE) that is promoting legislation to obtain international status and mutual recognition in EU states of authentic acts prepared by civil code Notaries. The proposal would not give status or recognition to Notarial acts or instruments prepared by common law Notaries. Hence there is a need to protect the interests of the common law Notary.

That proposal, if implemented, would mean that Notarial acts/authentic acts produced by Notaries of England would be treated as inferior to those produced by Notaries in the civil law jurisdictions in Europe and, by inference, by most of us here today. It is for those types of reasons that the World Organisation of Notaries—or “W.O.N,” as we have become known—has been formed.

A brief history of our organisation—as it is brief—is in order.

A number of us—in particular, the Notaries of England and British Columbia—have mulled over the idea of forming a world body that would represent the interests of common law Notaries and at the same time include most Notary organisations that would choose to become members of W.O.N.

We all come from different backgrounds and countries. The common thread is that we are all Notaries. Our powers in some jurisdictions are more extensive than others. I would point to my own jurisdiction—British Columbia, Canada—where we are able to do real estate transactions, mortgages, wills, contracts, authentications, representation agreements, powers of attorney, and the like. We have extensive powers. That list could be contrasted with other Notary organisations whose powers are more limited in scope.

Our first official meeting was held in England at Henley-on-Thames in October 2009. Many interested parties attended the 2-day session, including Notaries from Ireland, Scriveners of London, New Zealand, Scotland, Denmark, Norway, the USA, and Hong Kong—approximately 25 participants.

From that meeting the stage was set for a further meeting in March 2010 in Ireland at the Royal Marine Hotel in Dun Laoghaire, just outside Dublin, to officially launch W.O.N.

Participating for The Society of Notaries Public of British Columbia were Wayne Braid and myself; for the Notaries of England: Anthony Northey, Thomas Hoyle, and Michael Lightowler; and for the Faculty of Notaries of Ireland: Rory O’Conner, David Walsh, and Leo Mangan.

A draft constitution was developed along with confirmation of our name, mission statement, and the purpose and objectives of W.O.N. They have now all been approved and ratified.

Our Mission Statement

That W.O.N. represents and assists Notarial organisations, within their respective legal jurisdictions, in promoting the public’s employment of Notaries as trusted individuals for transacting and streamlining trade, business, commerce, and international matters.

W.O.N. Is committed to improving professional and educational development of the individual Notary and to the ongoing development of the Notarial profession, within and among the jurisdictions subscribing to the ideals and objectives of W.O.N.

Our Purpose as an Organisation

To bring together, in an inclusive body, Notarial organisations and individual Notaries from around the world to share, between and among members in their relevant jurisdictions, the common goals of creating better Notarial services and improving trade, business, commerce, and international matters

Our Objectives as an Organisation

  • To promote and advance the provisions of the highest standard of Notary services throughout the world
  • To promote, develop, and facilitate more effective but secure means of trade, business, commerce, and international matters between and among member Notarial organisations
  • To meet at least once a year to promote the Notarial profession and educate and assist Notaries to better understand and implement the appropriate Notarial practice and procedures to conduct trade, business, commerce, and international matters around the world
  • To promote and develop, common documentation, precedents, and authentic acts
  • To promote, develop, and implement new technologies to better communicate with and verify Notaries within member jurisdictions and to use new technologies to authenticate Notarial instruments and acts, with a view to increasing the efficiency of Notarial services
  • To accept into W.O.N. as full members all Notarial organisations whose membership requirements meet the education standards set by W.O.N.
  • To ensure member Notarial jurisdictions have in place appropriate legal educational standards
  • To provide assistance to help improve the education standards of Notaries to an appropriate level where necessary.
  • To assist in the provision of continuing education programs to Notaries and increase the knowledge, skills, and proficiency of Notarial practice that they offer throughout the world
  • To work in cooperation with Notaries and Notarial organisations around the world to promote raising the profile of the Notarial profession

As I have stated, we speak about attempting to promote better efficiencies as one of our objectives.

Our organisation will be looking to the development of a digital signature that would be associated with W.O.N. members only, to verify and authenticate client signatures for use and acceptance worldwide on all forms of documentation presently requiring authentication and verification.

The layers of society and government bureaucracy required to obtain and verify signatures of Notaries worldwide is cumbersome and impedes the speed of trade and commerce for our clients.

For members of W.O.N. and in conjunction with states, provinces, and countries, the W.O.N. digital signature could replace the present authentication and verification signatures required. The W.O.N. digital signature would represent a one-stop verification process. W.O.N. would administer through a common portal the verification of individual Notaries who are members of W.O.N.

The verification process, though administered by W.O.N., would also engage W.O.N. members to advise when an individual Notary from their organisation may not be in good standing such that W.O.N. would suspend the digital signature of the individual Notary until notified by the member organisation that the individual Notary had been reinstated.

An individual member could then place his or her digital signature with the recognized W.O.N. logo confirming verification that the Notary had witnessed the document and confirmed the client’s identify. The placement of the digital signature on the document would also be verification that the Notary was in fact a member-in-good-standing of his or her organisation and a member of the W.O.N. Notarial network.

This process would effectively happen within seconds and would save our clients a considerable amount of time over the present requirements that now involve the Notary signing and sending the document to his or her organisation for execution, then on to the official government body (in some instances) for further authentication, which could take anywhere from a week to 3 weeks, to finally returning the documents to our clients.

The process to get the digital signature system up and running is a work in progress.  When successfully implemented, it will be of great value in improving the speed of trade and commerce for our customers.

And so it is that our inaugural group of countries and visionaries have embarked on a journey to create an organisation that will follow the ideals I have described. We have identified over 109 common law countries that would benefit by being a part of W.O.N.

We as a group are under no illusion that getting any organisation off the ground can prove somewhat challenging—I would suggest that if you asked any of us, we would tell you that it has been challenging.

We are all deeply involved in our various organisations as Presidents, past Presidents, Registrars, and CEOs, and we are also working in our private practices. We all have a common goal, however, and we are all committed to making W.O.N. a viable umbrella organisation for Notaries of the common law world and others that may wish to be members.

W.O.N. will represent their interests when required and offer new and fresh ideas to bring together our member countries to better understand each other’s systems and enjoy the camaraderie we all share when meeting in venues, as we are meeting here today.

I thank all of you on behalf of our Executive Committee and myself for taking the time to be here today and to listen to our first public statement and our vision.

We wish all of you the best!

Ken Sherk, President

World Organisation of Notaries