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More on the Human Tissue Act

The implementation of Section 47 of the Human Tissue Act 2004 [1] has been covered extensively by the international press, although there has been surprisingly little about it in the British media. The following two articles cover a few details that were not in the previous post.

artdaily.com [2]

Friday, October 7, 2005
UK National Museums Get New Powers

LONDON, ENGLAD.-Nine national UK museums, including the British Museum and the Natural History Museum, have this week acquired powers to move human remains out of their collections as the Government brought section 47 of the Human Tissue Act 2004 into force.

The nine national museums listed in section 47 now have the power to move out of their collections human remains which are reasonably believed to be under 1,000 years in age. This means that these national museums can respond to claims for the return of human remains by indigenous communities.

This move is supported by the wider museum sector; most of the UK’s 2,000 museums are already able to respond to such claims.

Guidance on issues surrounding the holding and return of human remains held in museums has also being published jointly by the UK Government, the Welsh Assembly and the museum sector.

Culture Minister David Lammy said: “This announcement is the right response to the claims of indigenous peoples, particularly in Australia, for the return of ancestral remains. It fulfils the terms of the joint declaration made by Tony Blair and John Howard.

“We have established a fair and equitable framework for the holding of human remains in UK museums, and for museums to consider claims for their repatriation. I hope that this will lead to renewed and mutually beneficial relations between our major institutions and claimant groups.”

Alun Pugh, Minister for Culture, Welsh Language and Sport in the Welsh Assembly Government said: “This guidance will be extremely valuable for museums in addressing this culturally sensitive matter and I hope it will reassure claimant groups that their concerns are being treated with the proper respect.”

Guidance for the Care of Human Remains in Museums sets out a framework for responding to claims for the return of human remains in museums in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It also gives guidance on the keeping of human remains in museums and, where appropriate, other human remains collections in England, Wales and Northern Ireland

To accompany the guidance, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) will also be establishing an Advisory Service, which will be able to make expertise available to smaller institutions to help with decision-making in accordance with the Guidance. DCMS today invited anyone with relevant expertise who had an interest in assisting with these matters to apply to become part of the service.

Court TV [3]

Updated Oct. 5, 2005, 5:27 p.m. ET
British Museum and others to return human remains, according to new law

LONDON (AP) — The British Museum and eight other leading institutions plan to return human remains to indigenous communities abroad, according to a new British law.

A section of the Human Tissue Act, announced Wednesday by the British government, allows museums to return remains “which are reasonably believed to be under 1,000 years in age.”

Culture Minister David Lammy said the change was a “response to the claims of indigenous peoples, particularly in Australia, for the return of ancestral remains.”

Australian Aborigines have appealed to the British and Australian governments for more than 20 years to help them bring the remains of their ancestors home. Indigenous groups in North America and New Zealand have made similar appeals.

Aboriginal groups estimate that there are more than 8,000 sets of remains in museums and institutions abroad, most taken from the country as curios and scientific specimens in the 19th century. Hundreds of remains have already been brought back to Australia from such countries as the United States and Sweden.

Most British museums can already respond to such claims, but the British Museum, the Natural History Museum and other large national facilities were created by acts of Parliament which barred them from disposing of items in their collections.