25 Years of Lithuanian Notariate: Time to Continue Progress
Ahead of the 25-year anniversary of the reform of the Lithuanian notarial system, I am delighted to be able to talk about the achievements of the profession and of my fellow notaries. The notariate is gaining more importance while the state and the population have more trust in the profession, with lawmakers entrusting notaries with more functions. On the other hand, the Lithuanian Chamber of Notaries as a professional self-governing institution is faced with more challenges amid the growing need to improve the quality of notary work, professional qualifications and IT literacy.
The reform of the post-Soviet notarial system happened quickly. After parliament adopted the Law on the Notarial System of the Republic of Lithuania on 15 September, 1992, the country implemented the state notarial reform and switched to the Latin notarial system which is used in Europe. Lithuania remained loyal to the traditions of continental law and did not go to the extremes which involved an unlimited number of notaries and curtailed rights. The era of the free or the Latin notarial system started on 1 December 1992 with the enforcement of the Law on the Notariate of the Republic of Lithuania. That morning, all notaries woke up to being part of the Latin notarial system. Nevertheless, it is important to emphasise that it was only the transition from state notaries to private notaries that happened instantly, taking just one day, while the actual reform of the notarial system was an ongoing process, which took all of those 25 years and is still continuing. The process involves much more than the legal development of the state through the adoption of European traditions and the harmonising of Lithuanian law with EU law. Firstly, the process means the gradual improvement of understanding about the notarial system, its potential and significance to the life of the state.
In my opinion, the biggest achievement of the Lithuanian notarial system and the entire legal system has been that legislators and the creators of civil law envisaged a compulsory notarial form for many aspects of life. Notarial participation is compulsory in real estate transactions; inheritance; power of attorney; nuptial agreements; formalisation of mortgage and bonds; and establishing and restructuring of legal entities. The compulsory involvement of notaries in these fields not only secures work for notaries but, much more importantly, creates a transparent and clear legal environment. In Lithuania, the notarial role corresponds to the functions of a preventive judge in the civil area. It is the credibility of notaries that led Lithuanian legislators to adopt amendments to the Civil Code, which reformed the field of mortgage and bonds and also transferred judicial functions to notaries.
In an effort to broaden the role of notaries as preventive officials, the state continues to widen the boundaries of its functions. The President of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaitė, initiated the adoption of legal amendments which call for more active efforts against unlawful enrichment. The process requires notarial authentication of cash loans of more than 3,000 euros, purchase and sale contracts of shares in companies when the stake is more than 25 per cent or the sale price is more than 14,500 euros. Notarial authentication is also required for promissory notes of physical entities and some economic subjects when the value exceeds 3,000 euros.
In recent years, a few functions have been transferred from the state to notaries. Notaries are in charge of enforcement clauses under transactions approved by notarial form which lead to pecuniary obligations, notaries authenticate documents in apostille and notaries are authorised to serve as mediators in civil disputes.
At a political level, discussions on further amendments of the Civil Code and other laws, which would grant rights for notaries to formalise divorces when there are not disputes and register individual partnerships and evaluation, are still in progress.
A survey conducted for the Chamber of Notaries last year showed that notaries were the most trusted legal institutions by the public for the 11th consecutive year. We view that confidence as gratitude for the work we have done and as an incentive to go further. The growth of new technology also places conditions on notaries. The notarial system has intensively used the state’s information systems and data registers for more than a decade. Every real estate transfer and mortgage transaction is now electronic. However, the notarial system has always lacked a modern tool of its own as well as a convenient platform to be able to work with clients.
For the past five years, the Lithuanian Chamber of Notaries has been implementing the eNotaras project at its own expense with the first phase to be launched in early 2018. The eNotaras system is first internal electronic space for all notarial offices and the Chamber of Notaries. The accounts of every single bureau will include documents, templates and other electronic instruments needed for notarial functions and planning, and, most importantly, the register of notarial actions inherited from the Soviet era – the book that used to perform the bookkeeping function along with the list of actions. The electronic register will make it easier to calculate a notary's salary, with data automatically entered in the databases of the Chamber of Notaries and tax administrators. On the “user side” – the so-called client portal – clients of notaries will be able to create safe accounts to store information about notarial work they have received. Clients will also be able to choose a notary bureau or a notary of preference, set a date for the notarial action and upload the necessary documents, etc.
Lithuania's notarial system often feels responsible for international development and protection of the principles of the Latin notarial system. This is especially true in countries which suffered under Soviet rule alongside Lithuania. Since the Lithuanian Chamber of Notaries held a conference, “The Lithuanian Notariate – It Is A Bridge Between West and East” in 2014, representatives of the Lithuanian Chamber of Notaries have visited neighbouring countries in Eastern Europe a few dozen times. Lithuanian notaries have shared their expertise and experience with their colleagues from Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Russia. A special focus was placed on assistance to the notariate of Ukraine, which is making headway in the face of a number of obstacles to reform.
To summarise: The Lithuanian notariate has made enormous progress in the last 25 years but now is not the time to stop and sit back. It is the time to pick up momentum, move forward and make further progress.