May 25, 2005

Atorney General would have final say in restitution cases

Posted at 12:49 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

This article from Reuters about the Feldman case adds an interesting point to the statements from the Attorney General’s Office. At the end it adds: “But final permission for any works to leave the country would always lie with the Attorney General”. This alters the situation somewhat from what was suggested in the other articles, as it means that although the legal framework might be there to allow a return without an act of parliament, it would still always be the government that would make the final decision.


Nazi case may open door for Elgin Marbles’ return
Wed May 25, 2005 11:12 AM BST

LONDON (Reuters) – A British court case over art looted by the Nazis could pave the way for Britain to return Greece’s Elgin Marbles, whose ownership the two countries have long disputed.

Attorney General, Lord Peter Goldsmith, has asked the High Court to establish whether the British Museum — home to treasures like the Marbles and the Rosetta Stone — has a moral duty to return property obtained improperly.

The museum wants to return four Old Master drawings stolen by the Nazis from a Jewish collector in the 1930s but British law prevents it disposing of anything in its vast collection.

If the court rules that Goldsmith — the government’s top legal advisor — can give his permission for the works to be returned, it could prompt demands for the museum to hand back other works.

“It would allow them to return any items in their collection if they thought there was a moral obligation to do so,” said a spokesman for the Attorney General’s office.

But final permission for any works to leave the country would always lie with the Attorney General, he added. Goldsmith has reserved judgement on whether he will allow the Old Masters to be returned once the High Court has made its ruling.

The Elgin Marbles, a series of statues and fragments, were removed from the Parthenon in Athens by British ambassador Lord Elgin in the early 19th century and sold to the British museum.

Greece has demanded them back almost ever since, most recently for last Summer’s Olympic Games. The museum said at the time that returning the friezes would rip the heart out of a collection that tells the story of human civilisation.

© Reuters 2005. All Rights Reserved.

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