Museums in England and Wales obtain authority to dispose of objects on moral

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Museums in England and Wales obtain authority to dispose of objects on moral

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Museums and galleries in England and Wales will be given unprecedented powers under the new law to dispose of objects in their collections when there is a compelling moral obligation.

Art law expert Alexander Herrmann said the museum sector is concerned that the 2022 Charity Act, due to come into force this fall, could “have a significant impact over the next few years” on damages lawsuits. He said he didn’t seem to notice. .

Most national institutions have statutes that limit the power of trustees to dispose of objects, with few exceptions such as duplication. The public is already grappling with moral issues over art and remains looted by the Nazis, but the new law could extend to other objects.

Herman says: Do it without permission.

“This would introduce a requirement into the legal requirements of trustees, especially national institutions, to consider the moral claims of repatriation claimants … the museum sector does not fully understand its implications. It was a surprise when I first discovered it.”

Herman is Director of the Institute of Art and Law, an educational institution specializing in cultural heritage law, and author of Restitution: the Return of Cultural Artefacts.

His report on the law’s new provisions will be published in October in the Institute’s quarterly legal journal, Art Antiquity and Law. On Tuesday, we will hold a restitution seminar, when this act is likely to be discussed.

In his first report, Herman wrote about important changes in charity law. This is important for the cultural sector as most museums are run as charities. “The most significant of these changes relate to the ability of trustees to make transfers of charitable property when compelled by moral obligation,” he wrote.

He explains that such transfers are known as return payments. Herman says: Under the current … Charities Act 2011, the trustee can ask the Charities Commission to approve such decisions.

“However, the new law allows trustees to voluntarily transfer ‘low value’ property in exchange for it. But importantly, this new law will allow trustees of statutory charities, such as the National Museum, to obtain such permission.”

In an interview with The Guardian, he said: This leads to the familiar catch-22. The government takes the matter back to the trustees, arguing that it has no intention of changing this act…

“The truth is that there is a moral obligation supported by evidence, and if the application is approved by the Charity Commission, the object can actually be returned from the collection without altering the conduct.”

He said the change “does very well” with a recent call by Tristram Hunt, director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, to reconsider the laws governing national institutions. rice field.

Herman writes that the V&A trustees can transfer legal ownership of the Head of Eros to Turkey, which was originally part of the Sida Maria sarcophagus. “In 2022, it was transferred to the Istanbul National Museum for reattachment to the sarcophagus. Restrictions under the National Heritage Act 1983 prevented the V&A Trustees from legally disposing of it as a collection object. .

“It is often said that morality changes faster than the law. Here is an example where the law has caught up. It allows us to be guided by our moral sense of right and wrong, rather than face it on the sidelines.

“This is a very significant development,” said one senior museum insider.

The V&A declined to comment, but a British Museum spokesperson said: We are following the development of the new charity law with interest. ”