Section 47 of the Human Tissue Act 2004 came into force in the UK last week. Although most of the act deals with storage of human tissue by hospitals, this specific section covers a change in the law that gives nine specified museums the discretionary right to de-accession human remains in their collections if it is believed that these remains were less than one thousand years old at the time the act came into force. In short, museums will be allowed to return items such as Aboriginal remains to their place of origin, without being prevented from doing so by the Museum’s Act 1964, which this act now supersedes (where human remains are involved).
Whether or not any human remains are returned as a result of this change in the law remains to be seen. However, no longer can institutions avoid the issue by suggest that they would love to return the items if they were allowed to.
Gradually cases such as this, that of the Feldmann paintings & the Benevento Missal. are highlighting how flawed the Museums Act is in its anti de-accessioning provisions. Rather than tacking individual issues (human remains, Nazi looting) as they become a problem, surely the whole act needs to be reconsidered as a whole & rewritten in a way that is more appropriate for the values of today’s society?
Sydney Morning Herald
UK museums to return Aboriginal remains
October 6, 2005 – 8:54PM
British museums have welcomed a change in law that is expected to lead to Aboriginal remains being returned from their collections to Australia.
Implementation of the 2004 Human Tissue Act will allow nine museums to repatriate remains, superseding the British Museums Act of 1964 which forbade such returns even if the museums believed the remains to be of little scientific value.
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