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The focus of this article is upon objects in museum collections where legal title is uncertain (“orphans”), where the owner is unknown (deposited objects), or where the owner cannot be found (uncollected loans). Museums may have little choice but to continue to care for these objects even where they are unsuitable to be retained within the permanent collections. It is argued that the current law in the United Kingdom prevents museums from managing their collections properly and rationalizing them where necessary. New legislation has been proposed that would assist Scottish museums. It is argued that all museums in the United Kingdom need new legislation that would enable them to manage their collections more effectively and to approach the review of collections and the disposal of unsuitable objects in a proper and balanced manner, acting for the benefit of the public.
In the UK, there is a public perception that, if a cultural object is given to a museum, it will remain in its collections forever. But does UK law reflect this? This article analyses UK law and discusses whether a commercial approach is not always well suited to serve the needs of the museum sector and whether there should be more thought given to the public nature of museums. It calls for law reform in order to ensure that UK law and ethical guidance relating to deaccessioning and disposals from collections is sufficient to maintain public trust, so that people continue to visit museums and to offer objects for their collections.
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