Charities Act 2022 – Delayed Implementation: Parliament to reconsider sections that could allow museums to return items on moral grounds

The government has delayed implementation of parts of the Charities Act 2022 which could allow museums to transfer items on moral grounds.

New laws on ex gratia payments originally set to be introduced as part of the Act this autumn, are now “under further consideration prior to commencement”. Sections 15 and 16 of the 2022 Act have the effect of enabling national museums for the first time to restitute items from their collections, based on moral grounds (for example, cultural items obtained by way of looting).

Civil society minister, Lord Kamall, recently announced that the government will be deferring implementation of sections 15 and 16 of the Act until the legal implications for national museums and other charities are fully understood.
Lord Kamall referenced the return of the Benin bronzes to Nigeria by the Horniman museum in August this year. Other museums and charitable institutions have also taken steps towards returning objects on moral grounds.

This delay comes as a surprise to the sector, given that the wider powers will not, in reality, lead to the restitution of vast amounts of museum material, since the ex gratia power can be used only in rare cases. The 2022 Act is a Law Commission bill designed to remove red tape.

This is an example of legal restrictions making it very difficult for charity trustees to be guided by their moral sense of right and wrong. However, change is certainly on the horizon and we hope that Parliament will not prevent the law from catching up with morality on this particular issue for much longer. In the meantime, there may be other possibilities for returning collection objects, for example by way of a section 105, Charities Act 2011 application to the Charity Commission.

Please get in touch with the Charities team if you wish to discuss further.

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