How rookie solicitor Justin thwarted a Russian fraudster
For Justin Parker his very first job in the rare and prestigious role as a notary also proved one of the most memorable.
"It was a Russian power of attorney which was 16 pages long. It went off to Moscow and about four weeks later I got a phone call from a Russian notary to ask if I was the notary who had prepared and executed this document," recalled Justin, who works with mfg Solicitors and lives in Bromfield, near Ludlow.
Being a rookie in the role, he felt some trepidation at what was going to come next.
"He asked me a strange question. He asked: 'How many pages did it have when it left you?' I checked my copy and it was 16. He said: 'It now has 32. A fraudster has attempted to alter the document to give him the power to take a company's assets in Russia, but because you had prepared the documents so properly, I could spot it.'"
Justin says he felt rather smug that he had prepared the documents so thoroughly and properly that the crime was detected.
"But my heart was in my mouth because it was my first job."
Justin, who is 46, recently made history, in March becoming the first rector of Bromfield since the Abbot of Gloucester in 1538 when Henry VIII abolished the monasteries. He is now celebrating 10 years of service as a notary, being one of just 850 notaries in England and Wales out of a legal profession spanning more than 130,000 solicitors.
The role, granted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, dates back more than 500 years and involves legal matters spanning international borders.
Justin is a partner at mfg, which has offices in both Shropshire and Worcestershire, and as a notary handles complex matters such as powers of attorney for use overseas and purchasing land or property abroad. He was made a notary in 2008 by the then Archbishop, the Most Reverend Rowan Williams.
"It's quite a strange system. Anyone can become a notary, but if you have qualified as a solicitor it exempts you from the first series of examinations you have got to sit, making the process shorter. Most notaries are solicitors first. It's quite a lot more challenging to become one. You have to sit exams in Roman law, which of course comes up all the time in Shropshire – the number of people who have said to me: 'Justin, can you free my slaves?'"
One of the quirks is that notaries are the only ones in the normal legal profession who are required to swear an oath of allegiance to the Crown, a throwback to Henry VIII's break with Rome and days when notaries were Roman Catholics and there were question marks over where their loyalties lay.
Justin said: "I have always had an inquiring mind. One of our firm's partners, who sadly died a few years ago, was a notary. I saw what he was doing and thought 'This looks really interesting.' It's different from the normal work. It's different from day to day."
He was enrolled as a solicitor in 1996 and his role as a notary, from 2008, is additional to his "normal" work.
“We are a small group of lawyers but the work we do is essential for people needing to carry out official matters or business in another legal jurisdiction.
“I can’t quite believe it’s been 10 years but perhaps they’ve flown by due to the varied nature of the work.
“The work can include anything from power of attorney for use in Spain, to buying property in France or as far away as Botswana, the USA or Australia. It has been extremely rewarding helping people and businesses across the world and I look forward to continuing, certainly for a few more years.”
Notaries will frequently certify documents for use abroad, such as birth or marriage certificates, helping people going through complicated procedures including immigration or emigration.
The firm’s Susan Morrissy, who works at the mfg’s Ludlow office, is also an authorised notary.