Consultation launched on when possession becomes ownership

Paul Wheelhouse

Views are being sought on proposals to clarify the law on when possession of an object becomes ownership.

A 12-week consultation has been launched on a bill proposed by the Scottish Law Commission, on prescription and title to moveable property.

The proposed bill has two main provisions:

  • That a person who possesses an object in good faith and without negligence becomes the owner after 20 years
  • A person who holds a lent or deposited object can become owner after 50 years, if the original owner (or owner’s successor) cannot be traced
  • Announcing the consultation, Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs, Paul Wheelhouse, said: “While many day-to-day objects have little value, some objects like paintings, works of art, antiques and jewellery could have considerable value.

    “These proposals would see the law clarified in some situations where ownership is complex and they will protect people who have acted in good faith.

    “These proposed changes could also have a particular beneficial impact on bodies like museums and art galleries.

    “A key aim of the bill is to help clarify ownership in cases such as, for example, where the person possessing the object bought it in good faith from a person who did not actually own it.”

    Other provisions in the bill are:

    • That the Crown can acquire ownership of objects after 60 years when nobody possesses them. The draft bill also makes it clear that the Crown may disclaim ownership
    • To set out how to calculate the 20, 50 and 60 year periods
    • That when moveable property is abandoned it becomes ownerless
    • That the bill would come into force three years after Royal Assent
    • The consultation will run for a period of 12 weeks.

      A copy of the consultation paper can be found here.

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