The statue of Sekhemka fetched £15.8m at auction. Image: Christie's

Should there be tougher sanctions for museums that break the code of ethics?

Rebecca Atkinson, 18.08.2014
Vote in the poll and have your say
The Museums Association (MA) may introduce new sanctions for museums that break the code of ethics following the sale of an ancient Egyptian Sekhemka statue by Northampton Borough Council last month.

The MA has previously barred museums that breach the code of ethics from membership of the MA. Three local authorities – Croydon, Bury and Derbyshire – have been barred from membership in the past 25 years.

But following Northampton’s controversial sale, the board will consider whether tougher measures are needed to deter museums considering financially-motivated disposal that do not meet best practice standards. The MA’s ethics committee is also consulting on the scope of the code of ethics with a view to widening its focus beyond collections.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Front Row, the MA’s president David Anderson said: “We have real concerns that this rogue sale will encourage other museums and local authorities to sell treasures.”

Sharon Heal, head of publications and events, said in an interview with BBC Radio Northampton that the MA would look to convene a meeting with sector bodies to look at sanctions that might be applied, which could mean them not being able to access funding in the future.  

Should there be tougher sanctions for museums that break the code of ethics? Vote in the poll and have your say in the comment box below.


Should there be tougher sanctions for museums that break the code of ethics?


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MA Member
01.09.2014, 13:05
Financial sanctions may not be in the best interests of a museum service. Public naming and shaming might be better, although whether sales from museum collections would ever be a vote loser for local politicians seems unlikely.
26.08.2014, 23:30
Unless a firmer stand is taken by the MA museums in this country will feel undeterred from disposing of collections to fill gaps in council budgets
25.08.2014, 14:25
Tougher sanctions would be nice BUT as long as all this adherence to the MA Code of Ethics is "voluntary" Local Authority run museums are at the mercy of the LA governing politicians - as in Northampton. Our Council Leader could not care less about losing Accreditation and will probably OK further sales from the collections. Many local politicians do not care about having a local museum. I have said this here before - we face a future with lots of small independent trust museums specialising in ONE thing and run by one or two professional staff and volunteers who will only keep going as long as their trustees and staff have the energy to keep up the fundraising and competing with lots of other little trusts applying for grants from ever diminishing funds plus our national biggies! Large prestigious museums are very good but not everybody can access them so local ones are a cultural must. But the biggies are not that flush with money either - a fact that the Sekhemka sale has thrown up. NO large museum came out in official support of the objections to the sale and now we learn that the BM has an agreement with the upcoming museums complex in Abu Dhabi to lend them artefacts in exchange for sponsorship and grants - nothing wrong with that but is that why nobody from the biggies said anything ? In order not to upset wealthy patrons in the Middle East and the Gulf and enabling them to buy "our" artefacts from the big Auction Houses ? Is there a tacit agreement between the biggies and the auction houses to everybody's advantage but to the detriment of the small museums ? One does wonder especially with many rumours re the buyer of the Sekhemka statue. We need a bit of honesty and an honest debate not just tougher regulations. Do we want local museums or little trusts in addition to the Large Museums ?
MA Member
20.08.2014, 18:56
Selling something that isn't yours is fraud. Only Government can get away with that!
Tim Schadla-Hall
MA Member
Reader in Public Archaeology, University College London
20.08.2014, 11:50
the sale clearly breaches the Ethical code- and is also wrong- but before doing anything it is important to consider the wider implications as well as the public reaction in the current circumstnces
MA Member
22.08.2014, 14:49
I agree. It is wrong but surely cutting access to funding could have larger implications such as the closing of the museum. Is this what we really want?