The office of notary public can be traced back to the ancient Roman Empire, where a prominent but impartial public official was entrusted with the duty of providing legal assistance, authenticating documents and keeping official archives.
The downfall of the Roman Empire saw the development of the Catholic Church. Given its administrative nature, many clergy found it convenient to attain the public office of notary. Consequently the Vatican became responsible for the appointment of notaries.
The Renaissance witnessed the development of two distinct legal systems in Europe, the Civil Law system based upon Roman law and the Common Law system based on English law. The Civil law notary continued to be a recognised public official, performing many of the same services of the common law lawyer, with the exception of court appearances.
England did not develop the profession of notary to the extent of its civil law counterpart. During the 13th century the Pope granted the Archbishop of Canterbury the right to appoint notaries. As international trade developed, the services of the notary became confined to documentation for international commerce. A Court of Faculties, under the guidance of the Archbishop of Canterbury was established and given the responsibility for the appointment of notaries. That responsibility continues today.
There has never been any attempt to codify the precise nature of the office of notary public and today appointment remains with the Court of Faculties in England.
Source: Society of Notaries Queensland