History of the Notariat

Notaries: symbol of true freedom

Notaries have since their very earliest days been a esential element in democratic societies and the market economy. As civil servants, notaries guarantee the exercise of individual and property freedoms, in any situation, even against public authorities.

Historical background

The most ancient figure similar to a notary was probably the Egyptian scribe, who would draw up State documents and sometimes also those of private individuals. These texts were valid only if they bore the seal of a priest or a magistrate of similar hierarchy. The Hebrew 'scribes of the people' would draw up various transactions and private documents, such as divorce certificates.

However, the direct precursors of notaries were unquestionably the Greek 'syngraph' and Roman 'tabularius'. These figures provided the basis for the initial emergence of the profession in the 12th century, at the University of Bologna. The foundations for the scientific Notariat were summarised and disseminated throughout Europe by means of the 'Summa artias notariae' of Rolandino, a famous teacher and notary in the Italian city.

The Notariat in Spain

In Spain, the General Forum of Jaca and the Royal Forum of Castile (1255) vested the utmost authority in a charter sealed by a notary. The archives of King Alfonso the 10th, the Wise, considered the Notariat to be a public service, regulating its actions by means of founding principles that remained in force until the Act of Unification in 1862, which remains on the statute book to this day.

Modern historians and researchers now turn to notarial archives for a greater understanding of numerous historical occurrences. These include such hugely valuable documents as the will of Isabel the Catholic, who wanted to have three sons so that one of them would be heir to the Spanish throne, another the Archbishop of Toledo, and the third the Notary of Medina del Campo.

The Notariat today

The Spanish Notariat of today has undertaken an ambitious programme of technological modernisation to remain one step ahead of the social demands of the new century. Spanish notaries have become one of the most active professional groups in the process of implementing Electronic Administration. The technological commitment undertaken since 2000, representing a considerable investment, has allowed them successfully to address the challenges and demands they face as civil servants following the entry into force of various regulations incorporating the usage of new technologies within their daily tasks.

In order to implement its strategic modernisation plan, the Notariat set up in 2000 its Notarial Certification Agency (ANCERT) so as to provide an improved service for the notarial body, and by extension, society as a whole. ANCERT, with offices in Madrid and Sant Cugat del Vallés, near Barcelona, employs about 150 professionals dedicated to the implementation, development and operation of digitised corporate systems, representing the rollout of the largest communications and technology infrastructure developed by a private organisation anywhere in Spain.

This technological development has allowed the Notariat to create the OCP (the Centralised Body for the Prevention of Money Laundering) and the OCT (Taxes Cooperation Organism), two entities that cooperate in the fight against tax fraud and money-laundering, by referring suspicious operations included within the Single Digitised Index, which contains all documents notarised at the nearly 3.000 notary offices in Spain, to the Sepblac (Executive Branch for the Prevention of Money Laundering), public prosecution offices and the Tax Agency.

Proof of the success of this cooperation may be seen in public accolades awarded by both national and international bodies, and also legal and economic professionals and citizens in Spain:

  • The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) highlighted in its most recent report that the Spanish Notariat was among the most advanced in the 17 European countries operating with a notarial system as regards the prevention of money-laundering and tax fraud.

This constant modernisation, combined with the trust based on eight centuries of history, is one of the reasons why the Notariat is today among the institutions most highly valued by Spanish society. 

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