December 8, 2011

Post from London: The Institute of Art and Law's "A Round Up of Recent Events in the World of Art and Antiquities"

by Kirsten Hower, ARCA 2011, ARCA Blog London Correspondent

The Institute of Art and Law in London, England, hosts both academic certificates and accompanying events such as conferences and study forums. On Saturday, November 26th, they held a study forum titled, “A Round Up of Recent Events in the World of Art and Antiquities,” which focused on current legislation concerning art and antiquities. The forum was attended by lawyers, art historians and students, giving a broad scope to the seminar’s coverage.

Norman Palmer, Professor of Law at the University College London and a central figure of the day, opened the day’s talks by addressing the issues surrounding anti-seizure statutes in the United Kingdom. He focused on the problems of anti-seizure which do not allow a claim to be taken to court while an artwork is on loan. However, loopholes inside the statutes create further problems, most of which could be, potentially, avoided with a good provenance. The point, as Palmer noted, is that, “Art is mobile. It should be able to move and be able to move safely.” This is, of course, a notion many of us hope for.

The next speaker was Nicholas Querée, a solicitor of Hickman Rose, who expounded on “Theft and Handling of Stolen Cultural Objects.” It was a very lively presentation filled with theft stories such as the 1961 theft of Goya’s Portrait of the Duke of Wellington and the theft of the Stone of Scone. In addition, he addressed existing UK legislation concerning theft and handling stolen goods (such as the 1968 Theft Act) as well as fraud (the 2006 Fraud Act). The most difficult issue concerning the handling of stolen cultural objects, as Querée pointed out, is establishing suspicion or knowledge that the object is stolen—which is far more difficult than one can imagine.

Tony Baumgartner, of Clyde & Co. LLP, rounded off the morning session with his talk “Targeted Offences: the Iraq Order and the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003” in which he recalled the sad tale of the Baghdad Museum in 2003. He stressed the fact that, though there is an estimate of how many works are missing, the true amount is unknown as to how much was looted from the museum from April 10th to April 16th. What happened to many of these works, is also not known. Baumgartner did, however, focus on the legislation enacted after the fact: the 2003 Act and the 2003 Iraq Order. The 2003 Act, which deals with tainted cultural objects, is limited to protecting objects stolen after December 30, 2003, (when it was commenced) and prompted the creation of the Iraq Order which prohibits all imports and exports of items illegally taken from Iraq.

The second half of the forum started with an interesting talk by Elizabeth Weaver, Barrister at XXIV Old Buildings, outlining the problematic case of Accidia Foundation v. Simon C. Dickinson Ltd. The convoluted case boiled down to the problem of certain parties acting as both agent and dealer in regards to the sale of artwork. As Weaver pointed out, agent and dealer are, in the eyes of the law, two very different roles and typically mutually exclusive. However, attempting to act in both capacities can cause infinite problems, especially in the art market which, as Weaver pointed out, is rather document shy.

Paul Stevenson, Barrister at Tanfield Chambers, continued on Weaver’s final note of the art market being document shy by speaking about, “Contracts and Exclusion of Liability,” and the problems that arise in court due to a lack of documentation. He focused specifically on exemption clauses in contracts that deal with the liability of each party in the context of their contract. Stevenson focused on two pieces of legislation that deal with liability within sales contracts: Unfair Contract Terms Act (UCTA) 1977 and Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations (UTCCR) 1999. These pieces of legislation deal with breaches of contract dealing with sales—something very important within the art market.

Kevin Chamberlain, Barrister at York Chambers, gave one of the most instructive talks of the afternoon, “UK Implementation of the UNESCO 1970 Convention.” Chamberlain paid specific attention to the articles of the Convention that UK law either initially conformed to or that it adapted to conform to. It was both interesting and helpful to have someone speak about the individual articles and to speak about their importance in the construction and evolution of UK Law.

Janet Ulph, Professor at the University of Leicester, gave an enlightening talk on “Art and Money Laundering” to give an overview to the legal aspects of art theft and fraud as well as their link to money laundering. She drew attention to the case of R v. Tokeley-Parry (1999) which concerns the problems of handling goods that have been stolen abroad. In addition, Ulph explained Confiscation Orders and how they have been upheld in United Kingdom. Quoting statistics of these Orders, “Between April 2007 and February 2008, 4,054 confiscation orders were made for a total of £225.87 million.” The main difficulty, as Ulph pointed out, is the statute of limitations that keeps casing from being prosecuted; an unfortunate reality throughout legal systems. Keep an eye out in the coming year for Ulph’s new book on this same subject.

The IAL’s study forum, like many of the other programs of the IAL, was a great combination of art and law that brought together those looking to study and protect art. For more information on the Institute of Art and Law, their events and certificate programs, visit