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25th January 2024

The law of treasure: so much to discover

The law of treasure: so much to discover
Samuel Isaac
Samuel Isaac
Trainee Solicitor

Far away from the land of pirates and chests of gold lies the real world of treasure law. Drawing from the common law of 'Treasure Trove', the Treasure Act 1996 has since provided a codified legal position on the status of objects of treasure found in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (each has its own slightly different process). 

Although originally a legacy of England's feudal heritage, the current law exists to ensure that objects of national importance are retained in the UK for public benefit and not lost to private buyers overseas.

Those most likely to be affected by these laws are detectorists, a popular hobby that was most recently made famous by a BBC comedy programme of the same name. A walk along the beach with a metal detector can be a relaxing pursuit, but finding an object of possible value also comes with grave responsibilities: failure to declare a find can lead to heavy fines or imprisonment.

Last year, some significant changes were made to the Treasure Code of Practice, the document that provides further details of the treasure process and how it is implemented. The most significant change was the introduction of a new ' significance-based' class of treasure. In addition to objects made of precious (silver or gold) metal that are 200 years old (down from 300 years previously), this new class applies to objects that are made of any type of metal and 'provides an exceptional insight into an aspect of national or regional history, archaeology or culture'.

An object might be significant if:

  • It is a rare example of its type
  • There is significance in the location in which it was found
  • It has a particular connection with a particular person or event

Once found, it is vital that the object is disclosed to the local finds liaison officer who will advise whether the object is, in fact, treasure. 

If it is decided that this object could be treasure, then the finds liaison officer will create a report on the object for the coroner who will hold an inquest as to confirm whether the find should be considered treasure.

If it is deemed 'treasure' by the coroner, it will then be at the discretion of the Secretary of State to pay a reward to the land owner and finder for the find before the object is acquired by a museum or gallery. 

The value of this reward is decided by the Treasure Valuation Committee (TVC), a body made up of volunteers from different disciplines. Finders can make submissions to the TVC including their own private valuation. The TVC should take this into account when they make a final decision on the value of the object. This final valuation can be challenged on procedural grounds to the Secretary of State directly.

Finding a precious object beneath the earth can take the finder on a fun and bumpy ride through the treasure process. Hunters has extensive experience dealing with treasure finds and is more than happy to help you navigate through it all. From first reporting through to valuation, you never know what you might discover!