THE LAW OF TREASURE: By A. G. GUEST WITH THE ASSISTANCE OF PAUL MATTHEWS.

Author:Bennett, Geoffrey
 
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The last twenty years have seen a phenomenal increase in the incidence of treasure cases in the United Kingdom. Thanks to the success of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and its extensive system of recording, we know that their number has risen from 79 in 1997 to 1,267 in 2017, an increase of 1,500 per cent. (1) Even though one would think that there must be a finite quantity of material which will one day cause the rate of discovery to abate, this, at least at the moment, shows no sign of happening. The media frequently reports on the discoveries of metal detectorists, who are undoubtedly overwhelmingly responsible for the growth in treasure finds, not least because of the significant financial implications for the finder or landowner as well as what is often the inherent archeological and historic importance of the discovery. The Staffordshire Hoard (2) is arguably the most spectacular recent example of a find which satisfies both of these criteria. It is the largest collection ever discovered of Anglo-Saxon gold ultimately valued at some 3.285m [pounds sterling]. This makes the legal implications of where title resides in such objects and how the interests of finders, landowners and the State are to be balanced of some significance both as a matter of principle and as a practical consideration. One of the surprising things about this welcome volume is that, despite all this activity, it is the first modern and comprehensive account of the law to be published in many years.

The authors undertake a rigorous dissection of the law relating not just to identifying treasure but also to the role and powers of the Coroner in managing the process. An introduction to the history of the subject, and the old law of Treasure Trove, not surprisingly reveals that there is no very clear basis in either Roman Law or anywhere else for its common law development in the UK. This historical introduction is of more than simply of antiquarian or theoretical interest since one of the quirks of the Treasure Act 1996 is that the old law of Treasure Trove is preserved if an object does not fall within the modern definition in section 1 of the Act but would have constituted treasure under the old law. This was a prescient reservation by the draftsman and has been called into play on a number of occasions when, for example, there has been a discovery of a hoard of coins which are less than 300 years old which falls outside the terms of the 1996 Act's standard...

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