Notarising Vs. Commissioning a Document

Ayanda Giwu - June 2, 2022


People often confuse the difference between notarising and commissioning a document. Notarising a document in the event you are only required to commission it could lead you to spending money unnecessarily. Commissioning a document where you are required to notarise it could result in the document being rejected for an important court application. Therefore, it is important that one understands the difference between these two processes. 

What is a Notary?

A Notary Public, commonly referred to as a Notary, is an attorney admitted and authorised by the High Court of South Africa after having written a specialised examination for notarial practice. As a result, a Notary holds the statutory and common law powers to prepare and attest certain legalised documents, as well as administer oaths and perform other wide-ranging administrative functions of a national and international nature. Notary’s services include drafting and executing notarial deeds, authentication of signatures, and certification of copies of documents as correct or that they are “true” copies of the original.

The services of a Notary are commonly required in various fields, such as conveyancing, marriage and the authentication of documents for use in a foreign country. The Notary can draft various specialised documents, which must be signed and witnessed in his/her presence. These documents include but are not limited to, the preparation and execution of antenuptial contracts, postnuptial contracts, life partnership contracts, Notarial servitudes and bonds as well as Notarial authentication and attestation of documents for use abroad. A Notary is required by law to keep a register of these documents. 

Notarising a document

You can acquire the services of the notary public at a law firm, a financial institution such as a bank, or even from an individual source such as an independent notary public who is working from home. When notarizing a document, you need to bring along the original documents and proof of identity. Depending on the institution, there is usually a fee involved. It is therefore advisable that you call to inquire about the related fees as well as to schedule an appointment before going to your chosen institution. You cannot send a person to notarise on your behalf. 

What is a Commissioner of Oaths?

A Commissioner of Oaths is a person in terms of the Justices of the Peace and Commissioners of Oaths Act. Sections 5 and 6 of the Act state that the Minister of Justice is the one responsible for listing who will qualify as Commissioner of Oaths. Section 6 specifically deals with office-bearers who during their time in office they are considered Commissioners of Oaths. Being an ex officio commissioner of oaths is only for the period while you are in the specific post/capacity of the post. Therefore, as soon as you resign, retire or change careers, even if only changing the branch of a company, you need to apply again.

Commissioning a document     

A document is commissioned by a commissioner of oaths. You are usually required to commission a document as proof that it is a true copy of the original and that nothing on the copy has been altered. You can find the services of a commissioner of oaths at institutions such as a law firm, a bank, your local post office or a police station. When commissioning, you need to bring the original documents along with the copies. Depending on the institution, this service is rendered free of charge and you generally do not need to schedule an appointment. 


Notarising and commissioning have many similarities. An important difference between the two is the person who can provide the service. Only a notary public is authorised to notarise a document, whereas a document can be commissioned by various authorised individuals such as lawyers, police officers, notary publics, judges etc. The fees involved, as well as the purpose of the document also differentiate the two. 

Ayanda Giwu

Ayanda Giwu

Legal Secretary