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If you need to sign a legally binding document, you may need to find a Justice of the Peace or a Notary Public. A Justice of the Peace (JP) or a Commissioner of Oath is someone who is qualified to witness a person make a statutory declaration or affidavit. JPs and Commissioners of Oath can also certify copies of original documents, such as birth certificates and passports. Notaries Public can perform a similar role but provide a broader range of services. This article will explain what Justices of the Peace, Commissioners of Oath and Notaries Public do and how you can find one.

What Does a Justice of the Peace Do?

Justices of the Peace are volunteers. They are appointed to their position by the governor of their state. Their primary role is to: 

  • witness statutory declarations, oaths or affidavits; and
  • certify copies of original documents. 

JPs act as an independent witness to the  execution of official or legally binding documents. If a document requires a JP to oversee its execution, this will usually be stated in the preliminary notes or near the signature panel.

As a result of their important role, JPs must be honest and impartial. Therefore, they may not: 

  • refuse their services unreasonably;
  • charge a fee; or 
  • receive a gift for their services. 

They also cannot assist with the drafting of a statutory declaration or affidavit or provide any type of legal advice whilst acting in their capacity as a JP. 

In the Northern Territory, a Commissioner of Oath performs the same duties as a Justice of the Peace. Each state has distinct rules about what JPs can do. 

For example, in New South Wales, JPs can certify copies of documents from other states and territories but cannot witness the execution of interstate documents (such as land title documents from another state or territory).

How Do I Find a Justice of the Peace?

Most states have a Justices of the Peace register.

For example, in NSW there is an online register that lists current JPs in the state.

As well as the register, libraries, councils and post offices often make JPs available at scheduled times. A list of scheduled JP services in NSW is available online.

What Is a Notary Public?

A Notary Public is a public officer, such as a practising lawyer, who can: 

  • witness documents; 
  • administer oaths; and 
  • certify copies of original documents. 

Notaries Public are able to perform all the duties of a Justice of the Peace. Furthermore, while a Justice of the Peace is only recognised in Australia, a Notary Public is recognised in overseas jurisdictions. A Notary Public will also have an official seal which is recognised in Australian, foreign and international courts. Notaries Public are sometimes called international Justices of the Peace because their role predominantly involves witnessing or certifying documentation required by a client for overseas use.

This means that a Notary Public can perform a number of unique functions, including: 

  • preparing certificates of law in overseas jurisdictions; and 
  • certifying that a document is a correct copy so that it may be used overseas.

How Do I Find a Notary Public?

Notary locators are accessible online. In NSW, the Notary locator lists names of Notaries Public in many suburbs across the state. 

However, you should make sure that a Notary Public has been admitted and appointed by the Supreme Court in the relevant state or Territory.

In Sydney, for example, the Legal Profession Admission Board administers the appointment of  Notaries Public.

What Services Do Justices of the Peace and Notaries Public Offer?

The key differences between the services offered by JPs, Notaries Public and Commissioners of Oath are listed below. 

Justice of the Peace Commissioner of Oath Notary Public
Recognised throughout Australia Yes Only in NT Yes
Recognised overseas No No Yes
Certify Identity Yes Yes Yes
Certify true copies of original documents Yes Yes Yes
May have their own official seal No No Yes
Witness affidavits and statutory declarations Yes Yes Yes
Certify documents for international recognition No No Yes

Translators

You may be able to find Notaries Public and Justices of the Peace that speak other languages. However, it will sometimes be necessary to obtain the services of an interpreter or translator to assist a Notary Public or a Justice of the Peace. If you need to do so, the interpreter or translator should be properly qualified. They will need to take an oath stating that they will translate the relevant documents to the best of their ability. 

Key Takeaways

Justices of the Peace, Commissioners of Oath and Notaries Public can witness affidavits, certify documents or administer oaths. Commissioners of Oath are recognised in the Northern Territory. Justices of the Peace are available across Australia and Notaries Public are able to make internationally recognised certifications. Notaries Public are admitted lawyers and provide the broadest range of services. If you need to find a Justice of the Peace, Commissioner of Oath or Notary Public, you can search the registers available online. 

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