New Court at the Hague Will Deal Exclusively with Art Disputes

Cases brought before the Court of Arbitration for Art will be decided by specialist art lawyers

Frans Berkelaar/Flickr

The Hague is best known as the seat of courts dealing with international disputes, war crimes and crimes against humanity. But this summer, a new tribunal devoted exclusively to art disputes will be launched in the “city of peace and justice,” as Laura Gilbert reports for the Art Newspaper.

The Court of Arbitration for Art (CAA) was founded by New York-based art lawyer William Charron, with support from the Netherlands Arbitration Institute (NAI) and the nonprofit group Authentication in Art. The new tribunal is due to begin operations on June 7. It will address a breadth of disputes relating to authenticity, contracts and copyright claims, in addition to other sources of contention.

With the CAA, Charron hopes to mitigate several problems that arise when art disputes play out in courts whose judges and juries don't have formal expertise in the matter. For one, these cases can be time-consuming and expensive, because judges need to familiarize themselves with the intricacies of matters like the scientific testing of artworks. Additionally, the art market is often reluctant to accept rulings that are meted out by judges and juries who are not authoritiess in the field.

“In cases involving authenticity questions, the market need not—and often does not—accept a court's finding that a work is, more likely than not, authentic or fake,” Charron explains in a statement.

Cases brought to the CAA will be arbitrated by specialist art lawyers, in an attempt to ensure decisions are both fair and acceptable to the art market. Another unique feature of the new tribunal involves its handling of expert witnesses. In authenticity cases, the tribunal will appoint experts from a pool approved by the NAI—in contrast to traditional courts, where disputing parties hire experts to testify on their behalf.

“The idea is to give the most comfort possible to the market that authenticity decisions are based on truly neutral expert analysis,” Luke Nikas, who helped develop the CAA with Charron and was selected as one of artnet News' most powerful art lawyers in 2016, says in the statement.

Though the CAA is based in the Hague, it can conduct hearings anywhere in the world. All proceedings will be private, but at the end of each case, the arbitrators will release a statement explaining their decision.

One area that could prove controversial is the court’s handling of Nazi-looted art. The CAA’s rules state that restitution claims brought many years after an artwork has been stolen can be dismissed if the work has not been “pursued with reasonable diligence” or if “evidence has been lost due to the long passage of time.” This stipulation might contradict the United States HEAR Act, which makes it easier for heirs to demand the return of Nazi-looted artworks by overriding state laws that require parties to submit their claims soon after a work was stolen.

“Unless the parties agree that these other laws apply, the court’s rules kick in,” Gilbert of the Art Newspaper reports.

While it remains to be seen how sensitive cases will play out in the CAA, Nikas tells Kate Brown of artnet News that he is convinced the new court will deliver just results, while resolving long-standing tensions between the art world and the justice system.

“[T]his is something that the art world needs,” he says.

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