Scotland

Scottish Law Commission seeks change to ownership rules

National Museum of Scotland
Image caption The Commission said the new rules would help museums better catalogue their collections

A change in the law, which would allow a person who possesses an item for many years to become the legal owner, has been recommended in a new report.

The Scottish Law Commission wants to bring Scotland into line with most other countries.

It said the present law on ownership and possession of property, other than land and buildings, is unclear.

It has proposed two new rules which would apply to things like paintings and antiques.

The Commission said the changes could help museums and galleries in cataloguing and managing their collections.

The new rules would convert possession to ownership.

The first would apply where a person who has an object reasonably believes that he or she is the owner, but turns out not to be - usually because the person from whom the object was bought was not the true owner.

Under the changes recommended by the Commission, provided that the possessor is in good faith - and does not have reason to believe that the object was stolen - he or she would become owner after having the object for a continuous period of 20 years.

The second rule applies to lent or deposited property where the owner can no longer be traced. It is particularly aimed at museums and galleries.

Under the new rule, the holder of the object would be able to claim ownership if the owner had not been in contact for 50 years and could not be traced.

Dr Andrew Steven, from the Scottish Law Commission, said: "Our reforms will bring clarity and certainty to the law.

"This will increase the marketability of long-lived moveable assets and should bring economic benefit too.

"Scots law will have two new rules which let possession of an object eventually mature into ownership, but with appropriate safeguards to protect the original owner."

He added: "This will replace the vacuum in the existing law."

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