A Private Members’ Bill to extend the protection of cultural objects from seizure or forfeiture had its first reading in the House of Commons earlier this month. 

The UK government enacted the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act in 2007. It provides that cultural objects and artworks from overseas are protected from seizure by the UK courts while in the UK as long as they are only on temporary loan to an approved museum or gallery. The current regime is designed to ensure UK institutions can borrow important items for display in the UK even if their ownership is contested, as long as certain criteria are met.

To become an approved institution under the regime, a museum or gallery must demonstrate that it has followed due diligence guidelines on borrowing cultural objects and artworks and has published information on the item’s provenance. While an institution need only apply for approval once, every new loan must meet certain requirements, including that the object is usually kept outside the UK and owned by a non-UK resident and that the import of the object into the UK does not in itself contravene any laws. 

It remains to be seen what extensions to the current regime might be proposed in the new Bill, the text of which has not yet been published. The introduction of the current legislation in 2007 was expedited to ensure that the Royal Academy could secure loans of Impressionist and Modernist works from Russian public collections where claims in the UK courts by descendants of the original owners were considered to be likely. 

It remains to be seen whether the Bill's proposed extension of protections for cultural objects is related to a specific item or exhibition, or if there is another motivation. The second reading of the Bill is scheduled for 10 September this year.