The Government has announced forthcoming changes to the Treasure Act 1996, as amended. The Act applies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Under its terms, newly-discovered artefacts defined as “treasure” are the property of the Crown, and a person who finds an object that he or she believes to be treasure must notify the relevant authorities within 14 days. The Act currently applies to objects that are more than 300 years old and are made of precious metal or are part of a collection of valuable objects or artefacts.
If approved, the Treasure (Designation) (Amendment) Order 2023, which was laid before Parliament on 20 February, will extend the criteria to include the most exceptional finds over 200 years old regardless of the type of metal of which they are made, so long as they provide an important insight into the country’s heritage. The extended definition is intended to include rare objects, objects which provide a special insight into a particular person or event, or objects which can shed new light on important regional histories. Discoveries of treasure meeting the new criteria will be assessed by a coroner and will go through a formal process in which they can be acquired by a museum and go on display to the public.
However, s 2(2) of the Act empowers the Secretary of State, by order, to designate “any class of object which (apart from the order) would be treasure” – and the draft Order also includes the following provision:
Designation of classes of objects which are excluded from the definition of treasure
4.—(1) The following classes of objects, to the extent that they would be treasure apart from this Order, are designated pursuant to section 2(2) of the Act—
(a) any object which is subject to the faculty jurisdiction of the Church of England and found in or on land which is—
(i) also subject to the faculty jurisdiction of the Church of England, and
(ii) held or controlled by an ecclesiastical corporation, Parochial Church Council or Diocesan Board of Finance;
(b) any object found in or under a cathedral church or within its precinct.
(2) In this article—
“cathedral church” and “precinct” have the meanings given in section 32 of the Care of Cathedrals Measure 2011(3);
“Diocesan Board of Finance” and “Parochial Church Council” have the meanings given in section 3 of the Interpretation Measure 1925(4);
“ecclesiastical corporation” means any corporation in the Church of England, whether sole or aggregate, which is established for spiritual purposes.”.
Update: The associated code of practice is available here.
[In Scotland, where they still use the old terminology, all portable antiquities of archaeological, historical or cultural significance are subject to claim by the Crown as treasure trove and must be reported. The King’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer has issued a Code of practice on reporting finds.]