Why art means good business for lawyers

Among the many – indeed, millions of – interesting things to have been revealed by the Panama Papers is the dispute over ownership of a painting worth up to US$25 million. The dispute involves Modigliani's Seated Man With A Cane, which the documents show is owned by the Nahmad family.  A Paris art dealer claims that the painting was looted by the Nazis during World War II and wants it returned to its rightful owners.

Also on the subject of stolen art, it was announced in the Queen’s Speech in Parliament last week that a Bill will be introduced which, when passed, will mean the UK ratifying the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. For more than six decades, successive UK governments have failed to ratify the Convention citing lack of parliamentary time. At the same time, there is to be a new offence of dealing in cultural property illegally exported from an occupied territory.

And, finally, the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) may have to adjudge on a dispute between two UK art recovery agencies, the Art Loss Register (ALR) and the Art Recovery Group (ARG). Chris Marinello, a former specialist at ALR who launched ARG in 2013, has accused his former employees of trying to push him out of the market. The two competing firms have been in dispute since Mr Marinello launched a database of stolen, looted or missing works of art in January 2015. Litigation followed with ALR filing a High Court civil claim accusing their former employee and others of “the unlawful establishment and operation” of ARG, citing breach of contract, breach of confidence and “infringement of database rights”. The CMA has not said if it will investigate ARG's complaint.

What do all of these news items have in common?  Law. Art law is a growing area of legal practice, to reflect the huge sums that are often at stake. With the global nature of the art market, the law embraces many jurisdictions and is consequently highly complex.  For any barristers wishing to know more about this fascinating area of law, a seminar is due to be held on Tuesday 24th May at the Royal College of Surgeons in Lincoln’s Inn Fields.  The seminar will be chaired by Lord Justice Vos and the speakers will be Richard Edwards QC, Adrian Parkhouse of Farrers & Co and Luke Harris of 5 Stone Buildings. 

The event is being arranged by the Chancery Bar Association. For further information, contact: Francesca Compton on admin@chba.org.uk

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