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An Anglo-Greek consortium is working with UK lawyer David Charity to investigate launching the first ever legal battle to return the Elgin Marbles to Greece
All previous attempts to win back the Parthenon sculptures have been made through diplomatic channels. But an Anglo-Greek consortium, led by Greek businessman George Lemos, is backing Charity's investigation into a legal claim. If a case is brought, it is expected to hinge on the law relating to the ownership of goods. In an article published by The Times on 15 January, British Museum director Robert Anderson said that the museum's legal ownership is unassailable. Charity argues that Anderson's claim creates an entirely new playing field for the battle over the sculptures. He said: "Any law student knows that the Latin tag Nemo dat quod non habet means that you cannot transfer legal title to something that you do not own. Lord Elgin gave the Elgin Marbles to the British Nation, who lent them to the British Museum. The museum never held title to the sculptures. Lord Elgin stole them. Title to the sculptures remains where it has been for two and a half thousand years - that is to say, with the people of Greece." The question, he argues, is governed by Greek law, because the theft occurred in Greece. But British Museum secretary Tony Doubleday said: "The trustees of the British Museum are the legal owners of the Elgin Marbles. They were vested in them by an act of Parliament in 1816." Charity is investigating the argument that Anderson's claim of legal ownership in The Times amounts to committing a tort under Iactitation (from the latin for 'I boast') of Title. If the British Museum then continues to refuse to return the sculptures, Charity may argue that a tort of conversion is being committed, defined as "dealing with goods in a manner inconsistent with the rights of the true owner". He argues that the six-year time limit for such a claim would start again if the British Museum failed to return the sculptures when asked by Greece. The immediate challenge for Charity is to establish who exactly is the legal owner of the Parthenon, and therefore the claimant, if a case is brought. The legal owner could be the curator of the Parthenon, or the Parthenon could have a legal personality of its own. In 1991, an English court recognised the legal personality of an Indian temple and hence its ability to sue in the English courts for the recovery of an idol, notwithstanding that it was incapable of accepting legal personality under English law. If the case involving the Parthenon sculptures reaches court, the defendant will be the Trustees of the British Museum and the UK Government. Charity has approached Stewart Boyd QC of Essex Court and Dominic Dowley of Serle Court. He has also approached Charles Lowe, a partner with the Piraeus office of Holman Fenwick & Willan, about the possibility of working on the case.