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For \”Moral\” Reasons, Museums Can Return Items Under New UK Law

Manmeet Kaur

The museums has become a crucial facet of 21st-century learning and leisure. It helps draw people to the country and is perfect for creating greater minds. Ancient artefacts or antiques preserved for history are displayed in museums as a window into the past and present. The majority of these artefacts were donated by several affluent families and originated from the archaeological survey. Previously, once an object entered a museum, it would never depart, but a new law in the UK gives museums unprecedented authority to deaccession artwork and repatriate items from their collections. Old restitution cases could benefit from the law, but it is up to the museum\’s prerogative.

According to new regulations that will go into effect this year, museums in the UK may be entitled to return items on the grounds of a \”moral duty.\” The Charities Act 2022, which was enacted by the UK Parliament earlier this year, may have an impact on restitution proceedings, according to experts.


The significance of the Charities Act was discussed by Alexander Herman, director of the UK Institute of Art and Law, in a preview of an imminent article that will appear in the institute\’s quarterly magazine. Trustees of UK museums, the majority of which are nonprofits, are now constrained in what they may take from and return to the collections by legal precedent since they must be governed by legislation. Most notably, the British Museum Act of 1963 forbade institutions from disposing of artefacts in their collection unless in extremely exceptional situations, according to a 2005 decision by the High Court of Justice in London. The British Museum\’s official policy on deaccessions, for example, states that the British Museum Act of 1963 prohibits the museum\’s trustees from taking away or giving back items unless they are \”unfit to be retained in the Collection\” and \”can be disposed of without detriment to the interests of the public or scholars\”—a standard the museum has cited in support of the reasons why it is unable to restitute at times.

National museums may make transfer made for moral reasons, according to new Charities Act 2022 rules. In accordance with these laws, trustees may individually decide to dispose of items that are \”low valued\” (the worth of which is based on the size of the museum). The Charities Act also provides new guidance on how to arbitrate whether a moral obligation to return an item exists, setting that standard as a \”reasonably held belief\” that a moral claim exists, and allows trustees to petition the Charity Commission for authorisation to return objects when there is a strong \”moral claim\” for items of higher value.

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