JP & Notary Public: What’s the Difference? (2024 Update)

Justices of the Peace (JPs) and notary publics both certify documents. However, they are quite different in practice. Put simply, JPs can only certify documents within Australia, whereas a notary public can draft and certify documents to be used overseas. In this article, we’ll discuss what the differences between a JP and notary public are and how to know which one you’ll need to certify your documents.

Table of Contents

Justice of the Peace (JP)

Acting as a Justice of Peace is a community service and involves acting as an independent witness to documents. These are usually:

The above documents can also be witnessed by a solicitor of the relevant state jurisdiction. However, JPs do not have to be solicitors. They are just members of society who have been authorised by the State to authorise documents. In order to become a JP, you must apply to the State Government. To be eligible, you must:

  • Be over the age of 18
  • Be an Australian Citizen or eligible to vote at a general election for the Legislative Assembly
  • Have good character
  • Be nominated by a NSW MP
  • Not be an undischarged bankrupt

After this, you have to undertake a knowledge test and complete your application online. You will need to include documents such as your birth certificate and passport as proof of your identity.

Generally a JP needs to witness documents in person. However, the NSW government has made exceptions in response to COVID-19. In NSW, a JP can witness a document online in accordance with the Electronic Transactions Act 2000 (NSW) s 14G, until the end of 2021.  

Notary Publics

The role of a notary public is similar to a JP, but they can draft, witness and authenticate international documents as well. A notary public needs to have been a barrister or solicitor for at least 5 years. By contrast, lawyers who have been practicing for less than this time can carry out all the functions of a JP. 

Notary publics must also complete a Notarial Practice Course and apply through the Legal Profession Admission Board (LPAB) to be a notary public.

Notary publics can sign both local and foreign documents. When they do so, they stamp the documents with an official seal registered with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). When these documents need to be sent overseas, they will usually need to be sent to the DFAT first for legalisation.

Afterwards, the documents may be forwarded to a Consulate or Embassy in their destination country as well. This is bypassed in some countries who are party to the Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents of 1961. You can find out which countries are part of the convention by checking the list of countries who are party here. If the country you require to use the document in is not part of this list, it more than likely needs to be legalised by DFAT. However, the notary public you meet with will advise you if this is the case.

Key Differences

Overall, there are a number of key differences between a JP and a notary public. The differences between the two includes, but is not limited to:

  • You generally do not require an appointment to see a JP. However, you must make an appointment to see a notary public
  • A JP will provide their services free of charge. In contrast, seeing a notary public can incur heavy fees
  • A notary public handles both local and international documents while a JP only handles local documents
  • The requirements to become a notary public are stricter than the ones to become a JP

Conclusion

A JP and notary public perform similar roles. The main difference between the two is what they can witness. JPs can witness Australian documents, whereas notary publics can witness both local and international documents. However, a JP will not charge you for witnessing your local documents. If you have further questions about authorising documents, it may be worth contacting a lawyer.

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