Does Greece Really Have a Legal Case for the Return of the Elgin Marbles? I Doubt It

Does Greece Really Have a Legal Case for the Return of the Elgin Marbles? I Doubt It

Amal Alamuddin-Clooney, Kevin’s Doughty Street Chambers colleague, made news this week by visiting Greece as part of a legal team working for the return of the Elgin Marbles to Greece from Britain.  This is not ordinarily global tabloid fodder, but Alamuddin-Clooney’s recent marriage means she will draw media attention wherever she goes.

I don’t doubt her legal credentials (as well as that of her colleagues), but I do doubt the strength of their legal case for the return of the Marbles.  At the time the Marbles were removed from Greece, the Ottoman Empire had sovereignty over Greece and there is pretty decent historical evidence that Lord Elgin had their authorization to remove the Marbles, or if he did not have authorization, his removal was ratified by official acts of the Ottoman government.  (John Merryman seems to have made the most complete case here).

To be sure, there are strong moral arguments for the return of the Marbles to Greece. But Alamuddin-Clooney and her colleagues are hired for their legal expertise. On this front, I think they have a very tough case (which may be why they appear to have ruled out litigation already).  But I am open to counter-arguments (based on law, not on cultural nationalism) for the Greek case. .

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