Case Law Database

Trafficking in cultural property

Offences

• Illicit excavation
• Illegal import/export
• Trafficking in cultural property

Jiroft Collection: Islamic Republic of Iran vs. Barakat Galleries (London)

Fact Summary

In 2006, the Islamic Republic of Iran (Iran) brought forth a claim in an English court against The Barakat Galleries Limited ordering “the delivery up of a number of carved jars, bowls and cups made out of chlorite” which, according to Iran, were illegally excavated from the historical Iranian region of Jiroft. According to Iran, the antiquities were the legal property of the Iranian state. Barakat, which owns a gallery in London and trades in ancient antiquities, disputed the notion that Iran was entitled to ownership of the collection and contested the Iranian claim that the antiquities came from Jiroft. Barakat also contended that it “acquired good title to the antiquities under the laws of certain countries where it acquired the antiquities, namely France, Germany and Switzerland”.

In March 2007, Justice Gray of the High Court of Justice in London determined that Iran did not possess propriety title to the antiquities. Furthermore, Justice Gray agreed with Barakat’s argument that Iran’s claim could not be pursued in English courts as the laws Iran referenced were a matter of Iranian penal or penal law which “a foreign state or government is unable to enlist the assistance of the English Courts to achieve”.

Iran appealed this decision and in December 2007, the Court of Appeal reversed Gray’s decision, concluding that “the judge was wrong to find that under Iranian law Iran had not shown that it was the owner of the antiquities”. Additionally, the Court decided that English courts could assist in the matter through the recognition of Iranian ownership laws, thus determining that Iran had the right to seek the recovery of the artifacts.

Commentary and Significant Features

In their December 2007 Court of Appeal decision, Lord Justice Wall and Lord Justice Collins recognized the need for states to protect their cultural heritage, noting the "international acceptance of the desirability of protection of the national heritage". In relation to the decision by the lower court, the Lord Justices wrote that "a refusal to recognise the title of a foreign State, conferred by it law, to antiquities unless they had come into the possession of such State, would in most cases render it impossible for this country to recognise any claim by such a State to recover antiquities unlawfully exported to this country".

Sentence Date:
YYYY-MM-DD

Cross-Cutting Issues

Liability

... for

• completed offence

... based on

• no criminal intent

Offending

Details

• occurred across one (or more) international borders (transnationally)

Involved Countries

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Iran (Islamic Republic of)

Procedural Information

Legal System:
Common Law
Latest Court Ruling:
Appellate Court
Type of Proceeding:
Civil
 
 
 
Proceeding #1:
  • Stage:
    first trial
  • Official Case Reference:
    [2007] EWHC 705 (QB)
  • Court

    • Civil

    Description

    In 2006, the Islamic Republic of Iran sought an order for the return of 18 antiquities excavated in Jiroft, Iran which were in the possession of Barakat Galleries Limited (London). Upon conclusion of the trial in March 2007, Justice Gray decided in favour of Barakat, determining that Iran did not have sufficient proof of propriety title to the antiquities and that Iranian penal/public law could not be enforced by English district courts.

     
    Proceeding #2:
  • Stage:
    appeal
  • Official Case Reference:
    [2007] EWCA Civ 1374
  • Court

    • Civil

    Description

    In December 2007, the Court of Appeal overturned the High Court decision and determined that Iran did possess propriety title to the antiquities pursuant to the Iranian Legal Bill of 1979 and that English courts could decide on this issue in recognition of Iranian ownership laws.

     

    Victims / Plaintiffs in the first instance

    Complainant:
    Islamic Republic of Iran
    Nationality:
    Iranian

    Defendants / Respondents in the first instance

    Defendant:
    Barakat Galleries Limited

    Sources / Citations