The United Kingdom's Immunity from Seizure Legislation

Published date01 September 2009
AuthorAnna O'Connell
Date01 September 2009
The United Kingdoms Immunity from Seizure
Anna O’Connell
The UK’s Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS)has introduced legislation to pro-
vide immunity from seizure for cultural objects on temporary loan from other countries to
approved museums and galleries in the UK. The legislation is aimed atfacil itatingthe cross -bor-
der lending of objects and bringing the UK into line with other countries such as the United
States,France and Germany,that already a¡ord such legal immunity. In the absence of immunity
legislation in the UK, many museums and private lenders had been reluctant to loan their objects
because of the risk that they might be se ized by creditors seeking to settle ¢nancial disputes or by
claimants contesting ownership of the works.This article examines whether the new law will be
e¡ectiveto provide museums and lenders with the protection they havebeen hoping for and asks
whether it goes too far i n depriving claimants of legal rights and remedies.
On 31 December 2007, the UK Government introduced a nti-seizure legislation to
protect cultural objects on temporary loan from other countries to approved
museums and galleries in the UK.
The UK’s legislative initiative was prompted
by a highly publicised seizure incident which occurred in November 2005 when
54 paintings, which included works by Picasso, Matisseand Cezanne, were seized
by customs o⁄cers in Switzerland
. The pictures, from the Pushkin State
Museum of Fine Arts in Russia, were impounded after they had left the town of
Martigny in Switzerland following a three-month loan to the Pierre Gianadda
Foundation. The Swiss authorities acted on a court order obtained by a Swiss
importand export ¢rm, Noga SA (Noga),who claimed thatthe Russian Govern-
ment owed it several million dollars in unpaid debts relating to an oil-for-food
deal signed in the early 1990s and who was seeking to enforce a Stockholm arbi-
tration award in its favour.
The impounding of the paintings was just one of several attempts by Noga to
recover its purporteddebt by seizing Russian assets abroad. In 2000, Noga instituted
proceedings to seize a Russian sailing ship that was due to take part in a regatta in
France. It then sought to freeze the accou nts of the Russian Embassy in Paris. Both
actions weredi smissed bycourt rulings in favour of Russia.In 20 01, it tried to appro-
priate two Russian military jets during the prestigious Le Bourget air show in
France.This attempt failed also. But, it was Noga’s seizure of the Pushkin paintings
Visiting Fellow, London School of Economics; Solicitor Consultant, Klein Solicitors.
1 Tribunals, Courts and EnforcementAct 2007 (Commencement No.2) Order 2007, SI2007/3613.
2 The borrowing institution in Switzerland had not applied for immunity from seizure (or what is
referred to as a ‘return guarantee’) under the newlye nacted Swiss Cultural Property TransferAct
2005,as th is Acthad not entered into force at the time the exhibition opened.
r2009 The Author.Journal Compilation r200 9 The Modern LawReview Limited.
Published by BlackwellPublishing, 9600 Garsington Road,Oxford OX4 2DQ,UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA
(2009) 72(5) 783^814

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