Amal Clooney, Geoffrey Robertson and Norman Palmer have concluded that this is a prime time for Greece to take legal action in order to claim back the Parthenon sculptures currently located in Britain. The legal team have sent the Greek government a confidential, ten-page, legal memo outlining the main points the Greek government must consider before proceeding with legal action. These are:
- What court of law should address the issue
- At what cost
- The chances of success
These issues were discussed during the legal team’s visit to Athens last October. Following the discussion and an anonymous donation of €200,000 to cover legal costs the previous Greek government gave the legal team the green light to continue with their investigation. The team then committed to producing a document of more than 150 pages outlining the recommended legal approach as well as a second press-friendly document, excluding some of the more excessive legal jargon, to be used by the Ministry of Culture’s press office.
The memo contains five possible approaches including the advantages and disadvantages of each. However, certain key elements have not been revealed by the media, as they constitute potential legal weapons to be used in case of legal action. These approaches are:
- Recourse to a court in Greece or Britain
- The eventuality of a Greek court deciding in favour of reunification would have little effect as the British side would not be obligated to adhere to the ruling. The only benefit would be to establish the illegality of Elgin’s actions in parallel with the findings of similar court cases held in other countries as well.
- The main downside to pursuing legal action in the UK is the British Museum Act 1963. The Act forbids the Museum from disposing of its holdings, except in a small number of special circumstances. However, thanks to a similar case in 2005 there is a legal precedent which the legal team believes could help negate the Act if it can be proven to the court that the acquisition of the Parthenon sculptures was achieved via unethical means. This approach, however, is believed to have a 15% success rate on top of which the losing party would have to shoulder the total cost of the proceedings.
- Recourse to a court in the US,
- So far the possibility of legal action in the US has been rejected.
- Recourse to the International Court of Justice
- Both the UK and Greece respect the decisions of the International Court of Justice. Furthermore, a legal precedent is derived from a previous case, Cambodia vs Thailand, the outcome of which forced Thailand to return sculptures removed from the Preah Vihear temple after occupying the area formally belonging to Cambodia. It is also believed that the International Court of Justice could request aid from the UNESCO General Assembly, which in recent months has shown its support towards Greece’s claim.
- Recourse to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg
- This approach aims to find a “European solution”. It is deemed likely that most of the 47 judges representing each of the member states will be favourably disposed towards the Greek side and may be guided by certain international treaties such as Unidroit, UNESCO and a European Directive of 1993. Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, titled Right to respect for private and family life, has twice before been used in cases (once regarding the Roma people and once citizens of Tahiti) and interpreted as right to protect and respect cultural identity. The legal team claim that the Parthenon sculptures are irrefutably a prime example of Greek identity and a big part of Greek history and culture.
The British adhere to international law … The Greek government has never taken advantage of this Achiles heel. You must take legal action now or you may lose the opportunity to do so due to future legal obstacles.
If the Greek government decides to proceed legally, the first course of action should be for the Greek government to notify the British government and the British Museum of the legal study and formally request the return of the Parthenon sculptures. If the request is denied then a legal claim will be launched.The first step will be for the Greek Prime Minister to submit the claim to the International Court in the Hague. In the event that the International Court rejects the claim then Greece should proceed with submitting the claim to the European Court of Human Rights.
The legal team had previously been invited to an event which was to take place in Greece at the end of January. The event was to be attended by the representatives of the various reunification committees from around the world. Unfortunately, due to the then upcoming national election, the event was cancelled. The legal team was not aware what the intentions of the newly formed Greek government would be. It was only through the Greek Ambassador in London, that the team was notified that the new Greek Minister of Culture, Mr Nikos Xydakis, was awaiting the results of their legal study. The legal team has since made it clear that they are willing to visit Athens once more and discuss the matter further in person.