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Immunity from Seizure


The protection of objects on loan from abroad in temporary public exhibitions in museums and galleries in the UK is covered by the Tribunals Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 (“the Act”). The legislation was introduced in response to concerns from museums that an increasing number of international lenders were refusing to lend items to UK museums without a guarantee of their safe return.

The steps below detail how Scottish museums and galleries can seek approved status via the Scottish Government.  Where the conditions for protection are met, a court cannot make an order to seize an object that has been loaned from abroad for an exhibition, except where the court is required to make that order under EU law or the UK’s international obligations.

Conditions of protection

An object is only protected from seizure if all the conditions set out in section 134 subsection (2) of the Act are met when the object enters the UK. In summary the conditions are:

  • the object is usually kept outside UK;
  • the object is not owned by a person resident in the UK;
  • import of the object does not contravene any law;
  • the object is brought into UK for temporary public display by an approved museum or gallery
  • the museum or gallery has published relevant information about the object where required to by regulations.

Objects will only be protected if the borrowing museum has complied with the requirements set out in the Protection of Cultural Objects on Loan (Publication and provision of Information) Regulations 2008 (“the Regulations”).  These Regulations require the borrowing institution to publish detailed information about the object at least four weeks before the day on which the object enters the UK. This enables anyone with an interest in any of those objects to raise questions about them before they come to the UK.

The approval process

The authority that handles approving a museum or gallery will depend on where the institution is located.

Approved Status is the certification which allows an institution to offer immunity from seizure for loans from abroad. To obtain this, an organisation must be able to prove it is an ethical organisation, following due diligence processes for examining the history of loans in and that they will not borrow items if there is any suspicion that they were stolen, looted or illegally obtained.

Once Approved Status is granted, the museum or gallery can simply list the works on its website with details of the loan and of the exhibition and immunity will be automatic. Full details are provided on the ICOM UK website

The authority is:

  • The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport for an institution located in England;
  • Welsh Ministers for an institution located in Wales;
  • Scottish Ministers for an institution located in Scotland; and
  • The Department for Culture, Art and Leisure for an institution located in Northern Ireland.

To be approved, museums or galleries must demonstrate that their procedures for undertaking due diligence comply with the 2005 Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) guidance Combating Illicit Trade:  Due diligence guidelines for museums, libraries and archives on collecting and borrowing cultural material.

Once you have submitted an application the Scottish Government will contact Arts Council England asking that they confirm contact details and availability for at least 2 assessors. Assessors are normally drawn from ACE’s Acceptance in Lieu Panel. The Scottish Government will send your application to the nominated assessors for assessment and act as an intermediary any assessor requests for clarification or further information. You may need to resubmit based on these clarifications.

If the assessors recommend your institution is given approved status, the Scottish Government will seek Scottish Ministers’ agreement to grant approved status. DCMS will update their published list of approved institutions and create a link on their website to the immunity from seizure page on the institution’s website signposting details of any objects on display which are protected under the Act

How to apply

To gain approval museums should:

  1. Read this guidance
  2. Complete the application questionnaire below
  3. Return by email to the Culture and Historic Environment Division (CHED) at the Scottish Government at least 18 weeks before an object requiring protection under the Act enters the UK.

Download questionnaire

Responsibilities of approved status institutions

The Scottish Government requires approved institutions to include a short report on their activity under immunity from seizure in their published annual reports. A report can be produced separately if the institution does not have an annual report. The report should provide information on the following areas:

  1. When did the institution receive Approved Status?
  2. Were there any conditions attached? If so, what were they and how did the institution address the issues raised? What new measures have been put in place as a result?
  3. List all exhibitions in the past reporting year (title, dates) which have included items for which immunity from seizure was requested.
  4. State the number of objects in each exhibition about which information was published on the institution’s website in accordance with the Protection of Cultural Objects on Loan (Publication and Provision of Information) Regulations 2008. A copy of the institution’s website pages on immunity from seizure, showing the list of objects, should also be attached separately.
  5. Describe concerns or issues raised during provenance research. For example, were any loan requests withdrawn because of the research?
  6. State whether the institution received any enquiries or claims related to protected objects and include descriptions as to how these were dealt with.

Process for dealing with claims

Scottish Government should be immediately informed if an approved institution receives any claims or enquiries under section 7 of the Regulations.

Reports for consecutive years will only need to focus on points 3-6 above. If an approved institution has no exhibitions which include protected objects in a reporting year, then it will not be necessary to make a report for that year. However, an institution may wish to report any further improvements they have made to their due diligence policies during the year and this would be encouraged, for example, any new training courses.

Institution’s should note that, at Scottish Government’s request, the Acceptance in Lieu Panel of Arts Council England will use the entry in the annual report as a basis for monitoring an approved institution’s continuing compliance with the standards set and their activity under immunity from seizure. They may or may not wish to contact you about your return. The panel may also wish to carry out spot-checks from time to time, for example, in relation to an exhibition.

Under Section 136(3) of The Act, Scottish Ministers may withdraw approved status if it appears that an approved institution’s procedures for establishing the provenance or ownership of objects are inadequate, or because they have failed to comply with a requirement of the Protection of Cultural Objects (Publication and Provision of Information) Regulations 2008 on the publication of information about any objects to be borrowed.