Commissioners for Oaths

Following the entries on notaries, I should repeat and slightly enlarge what I wrote about commissioners for oaths, the nearest equivalent in England and Wales to a notary public in the U.S.A. Solicitors automatically become commissioners for oaths when they qualify. In the firm where I was articled, the newest solicitors were allowed to do the witnessing of oaths. I think the charge may have been £5 per document plus £1 for each extra page – all had to be stamped and initialled.

Here is a brief note on commissioners for oaths by a firm of Solicitors and Notaries.I recall the solicitor I shared an office with going out for a very nice lunch after doing a 21-page document. On another occasion, Peter O’Toole came into the office to witness something. This was because we were next-door to a small firm of solicitors that worked for clients in the entertainment industry. One did not witness the signatures of one’s own clients, so we usually went next door.

On other occasions, if I was out with a litigation solicitor and a client who had to swear a statement, he would get it witnessed by whatever firm we happened to pass. Ours was a Jewish firm (I was one of the few in the office on Yom Kippur), and once I recall an East-End solicitor opening the Bible at the beginning of the New Testament and laying it face-down on his table so that our client could lay his hand on the Old Testament only.

5 thoughts on “Commissioners for Oaths

  1. Let’s not again forget, Margaret, that barristers – practising and now non-practising – legal executives and even licensed conveyancers can – by authority of the Lord Chancellor that isn’t only dispensed to solicitors in Eng, & Wales, though some websites give that mistaken impression – call them/ourselves commissioners for oaths.


    In the UK, this is really just a (pale) reflection of the system that already ‘obtains’ in the rest of the Brit. Commonwealth: some Canadian provinces, Brit. Virgin Islands and New Zealand where there is a fused solicitor/ barrister profession. See for instance on Main Street in Gibraltar signplates like: Barristers and Acting Solicitors, Commissioners for Oaths.

    Adrian, Commissioner for Oaths

  2. You’re quite right, Adrian. I have corrected your link (you had a space between ‘the’ and ‘notariessociety’).
    I will continue the topic. I was concentrating on making the differences between Germany, the U.S.A. and England and Wales where notaries are concerned.
    Barristers can do conveyancing for reward (have you any idea how often this happens? could be a useful sideline in dry times) and so, since 1985, can licensed conveyancers. Legal executives deserve a note. Then there is the undefined term ‘paralegal’.

    I remember my surprise at seeing the Canadian use of ‘Barrister and Solicitor’, meaning a person was both because the professions had been fused.

  3. Thanks for correcting the website address. My mind becomes addled when I look at long ones.

    Eng. & Welsh Barristers’ eyes glaze over when I mention doing conveyancing for reward. They usually retort they went to the Bar to avoid solicitor-type conveyancing. Most ’employed’ barristers working for solicitors’ firms are in the litigation and not conv. dept., unless working in trade & industry, say for BR or BA etc.

    Even a Barrister teaching ‘Practical Coveyancing’ on Eng. Bar Finals wouldn’t do his own conveyancing and instructed a solicitor to do it for him on a house-buy – then, of course, threatening to sue him when the conveyance went wrong. Not worth suing yourself if you do it yourself !

    A circular from The Chief Land Registrar in the UK that runs the new Conveyancers’ Electronic Porotocol mentions just solicitors and licensed conveyancers – discrimination! – though there’s no reason why a Barrister or Notary can’t apply to join the scheme. I’d thought of exactly the same in terms of pin money.

    My impression is that even Chancery Counsel/ Equity Barristers only get involved in conveyancing where there’s a serious matrimonial or partnership property dispute. On a forced sale of, say, the family home ordered against a recalcitrant spouse refusing to sell as joint tenant/owner – you know the stat. authorities -, the High Court of Justice will appoint ‘Conveyancing Counsel’ to sign the transfer of the property on the stubborn and usually surprised partner’s behalf to a buyer, thereby passing ‘good title’ that is then abs. unimpeachable at the Land Registry.

  4. Thanks very much. Useful information (unless your eyes glaze over). Presumably if a barrister did do conveyancing, one could sue him if it went wrong (I am out of touch with the latest situation on whether you can sue barristers).

  5. Good immunity-from-suit point, Margaret. Barristers are supposed to have immunity for in-court work, inc. preparation of pleadings.

    S.61 of the UK Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 now allows barristers to enter into private contracts for their fees with solicitors and others, conversely being open to being sued.

    Whether a disbarred barrister or struck-off solicitor – I know of at least one case – doing conveyancing without carrying insurance will be worth suing is another matter.

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