A change to the law in Scotland could have an impact on objects left at museums, where the owner has disappeared or has become untraceable.
The draft bill before the Scottish Parliament would first seek to introduce a 20 year positive prescription period, whereby a possessor of corporeal movable property (i.e. an object like a painting) would be able to become the owner after 20 years, provided he or she is in good faith and the owner has never asserted ownership during the period.
The second proposed change would involve a longer, 50-year prescription period for items that have been loaned or deposited with the possessor, provided the original owner (or successor) is untraceable. This would have an impact on Scottish museums that, though fully aware that someone else owns an object, have been unable to locate that owner for over 50 years. In such cases, ownership would pass to the museum.
If this last change is accepted, then museums rejoice – and donors beware!