The Treasury Act in practice
Volume 35, Number 11, November 1998
The Treasure Act of 1996 is arguably the single most important piece of legislation ever to affect our hobby, and it behoves us all to study its clauses in detail. Not only does it replace 750 years of common law and practices that have gradually evolved concerning treasure trove, but now applies to a wide range of other objects of archaeological interest. Of course it is not just numismatists who are affected; the Act impinges on everyone with an interest in land and the discovery of treasure or artefacts, from farmers, landowners, developers and builders to metal detectorists, local historians and archaeologists. What are the implications for us? The law now distinguishes between objects, whether of precious metal or not. There are distinct legal aspects concerning objects which are more than 300 years old, as well as designated objects at least 200 years old. At one end of the scale there is the grey area concerning associated objects; at the other, there are specific exclusions, such as unworked natural objects, minerals as extracted from a natural deposit, wrecks within the meaning of Part IV of the Merchant Shipping Act of 1995, and objects expressly excluded by Order in Council. The Secretary of State has been vested with new and quite sweeping powers. Even the putative ownership of objects found is potentially a legal minefield. How do we differentiate prior interests from Crown franchisees? What is the position regarding disclaimers, or the ownership of returned objects or non-treasure objects? The operation of the law comes within the jurisdiction of coroners' courts, so we must examine the working of the new Act in relation to the Coroners' Act of 1998. The mechanics of reporting finds, together with the penalties for delay or omission, need to be studied carefully. The responsibilities of local and national museums and other institutions also come into the equation. Rewards to finders, valuation of objects and the code of practice, not to mention the position of the finder and the landowner, have to be taken into consideration. An intensive study of both the Treasure Act and its accompanying Code of Practice may not be adequate, and in order to clarify the position and all aspects of the new legislation it is not surprising to learn that there is also a hefty handbook for our guidence. The Treasure Act in Practice has been compiled by Angela Sydenham, a well-known East Anglian solicitor specialising in agricultural law and access whose previous books have dealt with such weighty matters as trusts, agricultural tenancies, allotments and smallholdings. We shall be publishing a detailed review of this book, distined to become the detectorists' bible in next month's COIN NEWS.
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