UK signals readiness to bring in immunity-from-seizure laws - Museums Association

UK signals readiness to bring in immunity-from-seizure laws

In a surprise move, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) indicated last month that it is willing to …
Jane Morris
In a surprise move, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) indicated last month that it is willing to introduce legislation to guarantee the safety of objects from seizure by third parties when they are loaned to UK museums from abroad.

The legislation could potentially stop seizure attempts being made in the UK by creditors of foreign governments, people who claim that works are stolen or otherwise illegally held by a foreign museum or government, and by Holocaust survivors and victims of other wars and revolutions.

It would also remove a growing barrier, particularly from countries such as Russia, eastern European states, Greece and Austria, to lending objects and art to the UK.

In a consultation paper on the form any immunity from seizure legislation might take, the government says: 'The UK has developed as a major exhibition centre, not least because of the introduction of the Government Indemnity Scheme in 1980.

This position is being placed at risk because this country, unlike a number of other countries in Europe and elsewhere, does not have legislation granting immunity from seizure to items lent to exhibitions held in the UK.'

The consultation raises questions about the scope of the possible legislation, and considers the laws of countries with similar laws, including the US, France, Germany and Canada.

Only four months ago, the DCMS indicated at a major conference in Manchester on collections mobility that it would prefer indemnity from seizure to be addressed at a European level.

What has prompted the change of heart is unclear, but lobbying from UK national museums directors alongside Ronald de Leeuw, the director general of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and a leading member of the Bizot group of international art museums, has played a part.

So has the recent announcement by the director of Russia's State Hermitage Museum, Mikhail Piotrovsky, that the museum will stop loans to Britain unless legislation is introduced.

UK museums are facing increasing nervousness from lenders. Among others, pieces were withdrawn from the Tate's Brancusi exhibition in 2004, and Nicholas Serota, the Tate's director, says there are concerns from some of the lenders who are submitting objects for the forthcoming Kandinksy exhibition.

'It looks increasingly necessary to have legislation at a time when there is a general increase in litigation,' Serota said. 'We have lost a number of works from exhibitions, and not just from Russia and Romania.'

Norman Palmer, who regularly comments on human rights legislation
and museums, told Museums Journal that he was 'not against anti-seizure legislation in principle' but that a number of difficult issues, including the relationship of any new law to current criminal law on stolen goods and the rights of claimants, would have to be resolved.

For details on consultation, visit:

For details on collections mobility, visit: and

Jane Morris

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