Washington International Law Journal


The British Museum has been the target of criticism around the world for its failure to repatriate controversial cultural property to their respective countries of origin. In 1753, a private collector left his collection to Great Britain if it agreed to build a public museum and designate a Board of Trustees whose duty was to protect the collection for the public. Statutorily incorporating the collector’s intent, Parliament passed legislation binding the Board of Trustees to abide by certain principles, including preserving the collection and prohibiting disposal of objects, except in very few circumstances. As such, the Museum is administrated through trust and fiduciary duty law, legally binding the Trustees to preserve the Museum’s collection. This paper argues that, despite pressing demands for the Museum to repatriate cultural property, the Board of Trustees is prohibited from repatriation.

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