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First milestone in notarial reform

Notaries are witnessing the first in a series of milestones, aimed at reforming and strengthening the profession, taking shape with the overhaul of the Notarial Profession and Notarial Archives Act.

Costs and fees relating to transactions can now be verified
- Clinton Bellizzi

The amendments enacted through Act 24 of 2011 are the first step towards a radical change in the profession, bringing it in line with the requirements of modern society and the expectations of businesses and people who, at various crucial stages in their lives, need to turn to a notary’s services.

Surely things have moved on since 1927, the year the notarial law was first enacted. Today ’s technology-driven world is a far cry from the 1970s, the last time any major amendments to the law were enacted. So how is it that most notarial work practices have hardly changed since? So far, notaries have had to put up with the shortcomings of an antiquated and inefficient system, taking it upon themselves to carry the burden. Notaries have had to make good for the system’s limitations and work their way around them every day.

With the new amendments and regulations, notaries’ work has been streamlined and standardised to ensure consistently-high levels of service from every member of the profession. The notary must now produce a report on the title to the property for every transfer or whenever so engaged. The duties and responsibilities are spelled out clearly and unequi-vocally in the regulations and in the report, allowing for a more transparent and accountable relationship between the notary and the citizen.

Costs and fees relating to transactions can now be verified through an online billing calculator on the Notarial Council’s website at www.notariesofmalta.org. Any other fees not stipulated by law or not entirely proportionate to the value – which up to now resided in a ‘grey area’ of the tariff system – may now be regulated by a contract of engagement, safeguarding further the rights of the consumer who can now rely on readily-available official, updated information.

Compulsory professional indemnity insurance will ensure adequate redress for the citizen and act as a further guarantee of the notary’s professional stand-ards. Every notary must insure his practice for at least the minimum amount prescribed by law, with varying options according to annual turnover, acting as a further safeguard against any poss-ible negligent oversight.

All moneys collected by the notary on a deed to be remitted to the Government on behalf of the parties must now be deposited in a notarial deposit account. This bank account must be registered with the Notarial Council and the commercial banks, and used for these transactions only.

This will ensure greater transparency in handling the Government and third-party moneys, strengthening the fiduciary role vested in the profession while paving the way for more efficient methods of funds transfer and deed registration.

From this year, the Notarial Council has taken it upon itself to ensure that all the deeds published during a calendar year are collected, inspected and archived with the Notary to the Government by the following year. This system provides a foolproof method of checking every notary’s work practices and ensures that any inadeq-uacy is immediately brought to light for prompt remedial action.

The Court of Revision of Notarial Acts has been revamped and given more effective powers to deal with breaches and infringements. Any notary not complying with the new requirements will see the warrant suspended until shortcomings are addressed as directed by the court.

The Notarial Council is now vested with more powers and obligations to effectively oversee the system’s proper functioning .

Every enacted amendment can be seen as a target in itself. At every step there were ongoing discussions along the four-year journey leading to their promulgation. This is the result of years of discussion, consultation and drafting. Some amendments, which have now been incorporated, date to the early 1990s. These amendments finally saw the light after being sifted through by different Administrations, through the timely and decisive impetus of Minister Jason Azzopardi, who understood the importance of the proposals put forward by the Notarial Council.

Dr Bellizzi is president of the Notarial Council.

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