September 16, 2010

Could a legal challenge in the English courts secure the return of the Parthenon Marbles?

Posted at 8:21 am in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

An initiative in Australia aims to eventually finance legal action in the British high court in favour of returning the Elgin Marbles to Greece. There have been many attempts at legal action in the past, but as far as I’m aware, not have progressed beyond initial discussions, due either to lack of funding or being persuaded by one of the sides in the case to drop the issue. There are still many however that believe that this would be the best way to try & initialise proper negotiations on the issue involving all parties.

Greek Reporter

New move for return of the Parthenon marbles with a legal challenge before the English courts
Posted on 21 June 2010 by Apostolos Papapostolou

Under an initiative of AHEPA of NSW and the Greek Australian Committee for the return of the Parthenon Marbles, Greeks of the Diaspora are bound to set up an international fund to finance an action in the English High Court for the return of the Parthenon Marbles. The idea belongs to Victor Bizanis (photo), President of AHEPA of NSW. Below you will find the full article written by Victor Bizanis, published in

For years political and populist attempts to induce the British Museum and the British government to return the Parthenon marbles to Greece have been rebuffed and rudely ignored. The British may rely on a threadbare claim of legality because of a supposed sale or contractual transaction but with whom? The Ottoman bey of Athens at the time? Certainly there was no Greek national representative as there was no Greek nation to protest the ravishment of porticos and frescoes from the outer decorations of this, the most revered building in Western civilization. For too long, supporters of the return of the Parthenon marbles have seen a legal challenge in the English High Court to be too daunting and unlikely to achieve the desired result. But a new initiative coming from the AHEPA organization in Sydney Australia may be able to construct a respectable argument to put before the English courts in such a claim – to release the marbles to the representatives of the Greek government for a return to their home and origin Athens. The two Decisions one legal the other administrative are of Interest Mabo Mabo v Queensland (No 2) (commonly known a Mabo) was a landmark Australian court case which was decided by the High Court of Australia on June 3, 1992. The effective result of the judgement was to make irrelevant the declaration of terra nullius, or “land belonging to no-one” which had been taken to occur from the commencement British colonisation in 1788, and to recognise a form of native title. It is argued by some historians[who?] that the Royal Proclamation of 1763 was seen to apply to Australia at the time of settlement, and therefore governed unceded territories. Although Mabo was litigated within the legal context of property law, the decisions clearly had much wider implications which have still to be determined.

Thus in 1992 the Australian High Court made a historical determination to release land back to the “original owners” Aborigines of the northern Australian islands, As with all Australia the first English colonists had claimed land in the name of the King of England by ignoring the fact that people were already living there by declaring it as “terra nullius” – i.e. nobody’s land. Eddie Mabo took on the state of Queensland and with help from support groups won the day overturning what had been established custom and law. The result was that the Australian government was forced to admit that his island and large swags of the Northern Territory and Queensland came under the same heading and should be returned to their original owners. It was conditional that the original owners had never left which in most cases it applied to was true. Land that had passed into private hands as settled property affecting the lives of white Australians and in the cities was excluded from the court’s ruling. The historical decision is simply known as “Mabo” Mabo dealt with land rights but a later development has occurred which sets a precedent which could be even more relevant. Bringing Them Home Then some years ago indigenous people of Australia again made a claim this time supported by the Australian government for the return of human remains such as bones, skulls and teeth. Tasmanian aborigines who demanded the return of bones, skulls and body remains of their ancestors which had been taken away to England during the 19th. and early 20th century for anthropological investigation. The claims were based on religious and cultural grounds and that the taking was unauthorised by the descendants of the deceased whose body parts were scattered in universities and museums in England. In 1996 and again 1999 the British government conceded the claim and the desired items were returned to the lineal descendants of the long dead aborigines. These two significant circumstances could well give rise to the thread of an argument for a claim to be brought in an English court of law by applying Mabo as a persuasive precedent from the highest Australian court and the human remains ruling of the British government. The Parthenon Marbles The marbles were extracted crudely and wantonly between 1801 to 1812 from the Parthenon and sustained significant damage in the process. Whatever claim to some purchase or contract that could be relied on by supporters of Elgin, the fact remains that the Greek peoples were a conquered race, there was no nation, the Ottomans ruled as part of their empire then but in the way of history and other empires only held sway in Athens for a few years after the looting. The marbles were not removed either to protect them or to glorify them in England. Elgin simply had them installed in his private gardens along with the garden gnomes. The British Museum later acquired them by purchase from Elgin or his representatives to meet his debts. Were they “stolen” in the sense of English law or not is one question that would rise in any claim. If found to be stolen no title passes to a third party and that what would be part of the claim. No Greek Representative or authority or even lay person sanctioned the original looting of the marbles. They were certainly not Ottoman Turkish property other than being part of the captured territory. That they have deep cultural significance and meaning to the Greek peoples cannot be denied. They are integral to the linings of the most famous building in Europe when Greek learning and art laid the basis for western civilization and set standards of beauty and grace apparent to this day in the great museums of Europe and America. Other magnificent remnants of that time, Niki of Samothrace and Venus de Milo in the Louvre are stand alone statues. But the Parthenon marbles are integral adornments to an existing building and belong if not in position at least in the dignity of the new Athens Acropolis Museum in the hands of the people who are the lineal descendants of the age of Pericles, Phideas, Iktinos and Kallikratis and like the ruling in re Mabo as to continuity of residence, never left the site of Athens. Contacts have been made with other concerned people such as George Bizos a senior counsel in South Africa and other organizations and it is important that the best brains get together to coalesce money and intellectual input and to bring the arguments to a sharp point using the best legal people for the actual hearing. The Australian branch of the world wide Ahepa organization though its Marbles representative Manuel Comino OA and legal advisor Victor Bizannes believe that the time has come for an international fund to be set up to finance an action in the English High Court using these two significant cases as part of the argument for the return of Hellenic property to its original owners- the Hellenic peoples. (Victor Bizannes Sydney – June 2010)

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)

Possibly related articles

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. wordbender said,

    01.07.11 at 4:57 pm

    This is almost flawless argument, but only almost. Based on this, any court should immediately rule in favor of the repatriation of the marbles only if Greeks intended to use them in accordance with their original purpose as a decoration of Parthenon, precisely in the same manner as aboriginal people use their repatriated land and human remains of their ancestors which are repatriated to be reburied. Yet Greeks intend to treat the marbles in accordance with their “outstanding universal value” in UNESCO terms, which means putting them in a museum as any other museum collection. If the value is universal then the location is irrelevant i.e.the marbles should stay where they are. Their value is not local and Greeks admit it by putting them into museum, not restoring them onto the “most famous European building”, the Parthenon.
    disclaimer: I am neither British nor a heritage worker.

RSS feed for comments on this post

Leave a Comment

We want to hear your views. Be as critical or controversial as you like, but please don't get personal or offensive. Remember this is for feedback and constructive discussion!
Comments may be edited or removed if they do not meet these guidelines. Repeat offenders will be blocked from posting further comments. Any comment deemed libellous by Elginism's editors will be removed.
The commenting system uses some automatic spam detection and occasionally comments do not appear instantly - please do not repost comments if they do not show up straight away