Direct link Share on

In a judgment handed down today, the Administrative Court concluded that the Arts Council England (ACE) was not the “competent authority” under EU law to issue an export licence for a painting “of exceptional cultural and historical importance”, estimated to be worth approximately £10 million(at [1]).

The case is the first of its kind to determine issues relating to the common EU framework on export licensing for cultural objects, and provides clarity to national authorities, art dealers and auction houses across the European Union.

The case concerned an oil painting on wood panel entitled “Madonna con Bambino” (116 x 69 cm) – which is now attributed to the artist Giotto di Bondone (1266-1337) (or his school). 

The claim turned on whether the painting had been “lawfully” dispatched to the UK, and therefore whether ACE was competent to grant the Claimant a licence to remove it from the European Union, within the meaning of Article 2(2)(b) of EC Regulation 116/2009.

Mrs Justice Carr DBE dismissed the claim, finding that:

(i) The concept of “lawful” was to “be judged by reference to the law of the Member State of dispatch, here Italy” (at [64]), in light of the language, structure and purpose of the EU coordinating rules (at [57]-[63]);

 (ii) This requirement of Italian law did not fall foul of the EU law free movement of goods, which recognised a substantial discretion for Member States to protect their national treasures ([87]-[94]).

The Court granted the Claimant permission to appeal on two grounds.

The full judgment can be read here.

Ben Jaffey QC and Ravi Mehta acted for the successful Defendant, the Arts Council England and the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (the 2nd Interested Party).