How to become a Commissioner of Oaths

Tuesday, May 28, 2024, 11:09
Author name
George Seruwagi
A document being signed, this can often be verified by a Commissioner of Oaths

A Commissioner of Oaths is an individual authorised by law to administer oaths, affirmations, and statutory declarations.  They play a vital role in legal proceedings by ensuring that individuals swear or affirm the truthfulness of statements made in various documents.  In South Africa, Commissioners of Oaths are appointed to serve the public interest and maintain the integrity of legal documents.

 

Legal framework in South Africa

The legal framework governing Commissioners of Oaths in South Africa primarily stems from the Commissioners of Oaths Act, 1963 (Act No. 16 of 1963), and other relevant regulations.  This legislation outlines the powers, duties, and responsibilities of a Commissioner of Oaths, as well as the procedures for their appointment and removal.  Commissioners of Oaths are appointed by the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services.

 

Functions and responsibilities

A Commissioner of Oaths has several key functions and responsibilities, including:

Administering oaths and affirmations

A Commissioner of Oaths is authorised to administer oaths and affirmations.  This involves the solemn act of swearing to the truthfulness of a statement contained in a legal document or making a solemn affirmation to the same effect.  Individuals appearing before the Commissioner of Oaths must take an oath or affirmation as required by the relevant legal document, such as an affidavit or statutory declaration.

Ensuring understanding and compliance

One of the key responsibilities of the Commissioner of Oaths is to ensure that individuals fully understand the significance of swearing or affirming the truthfulness of their statements.  Commissioners must explain the nature and consequences of taking an oath or affirmation, including the legal obligations and potential consequences of making false statements.  This ensures that individuals make their statements knowingly, voluntarily, and truthfully.

Verifying identity and document authenticity

The Commissioner of Oaths is responsible for verifying the identity of individuals appearing before them.  This involves confirming the identity of the person presenting the document and ensuring that they are the individual they claim to be.  Additionally, Commissioners must verify the authenticity of the documents presented, ensuring that they are genuine and legally valid.  This helps prevent fraud and misrepresentation in legal proceedings.

Certifying copies of documents

In addition to administering oaths and affirmations, the Commissioner of Oaths may also be authorised to certify copies of original documents as true copies.  This involves comparing the copy to the original document and certifying that it is a true and accurate reproduction.  Certified copies are often required for various legal purposes, such as submitting evidence in court or fulfilling administrative requirements.

Upholding legal standards and ethics

The Commissioner of Oaths is bound by legal standards and ethical principles in the performance of their duties.  They must conduct themselves with integrity, impartiality, and professionalism at all times.  Commissioners must adhere to applicable laws, regulations, and guidelines governing their role, ensuring that they uphold the integrity of the legal system and maintain public trust and confidence.

Facilitating legal transactions and proceedings

By fulfilling their functions and responsibilities, the Commissioner of Oaths facilitates various legal transactions and proceedings.  They provide a crucial service in the preparation and execution of legal documents, such as affidavits, statutory declarations, and witness statements.  Commissioners play a vital role in ensuring the validity and authenticity of these documents, thereby contributing to the smooth functioning of the justice system.

 

Becoming a Commissioner of Oaths

To qualify as a Commissioner of Oaths in South Africa, individuals must meet certain criteria specified by law:

Eligibility requirements

Applicants should be at least 18 years old and a South African citizen to qualify for an appointment as a Commissioner of Oaths.

Applicants must reside within the jurisdiction of the Magistrates' Court where they intend to submit their application.  This ensures the appointed Commissioner serves the local community effectively.

Applicants must be admitted attorneys, advocates, or magistrates, or they must hold specific qualifications recognised by the relevant authorities.

Applicants with a criminal record or history of dishonesty are unlikely to be approved.

Gathering required documents

Before initiating your application, ensure you have the necessary documents:

Download the form from the Department of Justice website and fill it out accurately and comprehensively.  Double-check for any errors or omissions before submitting.

Applicants require a certified copy of their official South African ID document, such as their ID book or smart card.  This copy needs to be certified by a Commissioner of Oaths, attorney, notary public, or another authorised person.

A crucial element of the application is a letter of recommendation.  This letter should:

  • Be written on the official letterhead of your employer, demonstrating their willingness to support your application.
  • Be signed by your manager or supervisor, someone who can vouch for your character and suitability for the role.
  • Clearly state the reason you require Commissioner of Oaths designation.  Explain how this role directly benefits your work and the public at large, not solely your company.
  • Emphasise the public interest aspect.  The letter needs to convincingly present the appointment as serving the broader community, not just a personal or corporate benefit.

Submitting your application

Residents of Gauteng province must hand-deliver their application package (completed form, certified ID copy, and recommendation letter) to their nearest Magistrates' Court.  If you reside outside of Gauteng, contact your local Magistrates' Court to inquire about their submission process.  Their procedures might differ; it could involve hand-delivery or postal submission.

Interview and processing

While not guaranteed, you may be called for a brief interview at the Magistrates' Court.  This interview serves to verify the information provided in your application and assess your suitability for the role.  During the interview, be prepared to answer questions regarding your understanding of the responsibilities and ethical codes associated with being a Commissioner of Oaths.

Following the submission of your application, it will be forwarded to the Regional Office for processing and approval.  Unfortunately, this process can take several weeks or even months due to administrative procedures.

You will not be contacted for updates during this time.  It is best to be patient and wait for an official communication from the Department of Justice regarding the status of your application.

Take an oath of office

Upon appointment, you may be required to take an oath of office before assuming your duties as a Commissioner of Oaths.  This oath affirms your commitment to uphold the law and perform your duties faithfully.

 

Conclusion

Commissioners of Oaths play a vital role in the legal system of South Africa.  Ongoing education and professional development are essential to stay up to date with changes in legislation, procedures, and best practices.  Training programmes, workshops, and seminars are available to Commissioners to enhance their skills and knowledge in fulfilling their duties effectively.

Register for the Commissioner of Oaths workshop at the Gawie le Roux Institute of Law.  This workshop will explore the evolving legal landscape of virtual document commissioning in South Africa, staying ahead of the curve in the digital age.

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