Norman Palmer CBE QC

Norman Palmer's practice consists of advocacy and advisory work. His main specialism is the law concerning cultural property and other forms of portable wealth. He advises on a wide range of matters involving fine and decorative art, antiquities, archaeological hoards, national patrimony, manuscripts, gemstones, the luxury arts, motor cars, aircraft and prized animals. On a wider plane he advises on general questions of commercial law and personal property, including insolvency and commercial dispute resolution.


Character of Work, Art and Antiquities

Norman Palmer’s experience in the field of art and antiquities includes

  • advising governments on national law and policy and the drafting of legislation,
  • advising international bodies on the development of uniform law,
  • drafting international agreements for example on acquisitions and loans,
  • resolving issues of museum governance,
  • managing and maintaining the legal integrity of public and private art collections,
  • promoting cross-border mobility and the enhancement of public access to art,
  • the import and export of cultural objects,
  •  investment in and security over art,
  • claims for the restitution of unlawfully removed heritage material,
  • repatriation claims by indigenous peoples and other dispossessed groups,
  • the law of human rights as it affects historical or artistic material
  • the structuring of art loans, joint acquisitions, revolving title to art and other agreements for the sharing of cultural objects,
  • co-operative transacting between different cultures and markets, and
  • the mediation and other out-of-court resolution of art-related disputes.

Character of Work, commercial law

Norman Palmer's experience as adviser and advocate in the wider field ofcommercial agreements, movable assets and personal property law includes

  • pursuing and defending claims in conversion and other title-related disputes,
  • advising on transactions by way of bailment, carriage, chattel security and finance leasing, and the sale and supply of goods and services,
  • general commercial and contract law, including investment and banking transactions,
  • arbitration, mediation, expert determination and other forms of alternative dispute resolution in civil and commercial causes or matters.


Norman Palmer has advised governments and museums on legal issues arising both at home and abroad. He has also advised indigenous communities, learned societies, local authorities, commercial art enterprises, private collectors, ecclesiastical bodies, private claimants, banks, finance companies and other commercial corporations, insolvency practitioners, insurance practitioners, loss adjusters and transport groups.

Norman Palmer has advised governments and other interested parties on all aspects of legislative policy, advocacy and drafting in regard to artistic, historic and commercial property. In recent years he had advised numerous governments, including those of the United Kingdom, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Netherlands, Hungary and New Zealandon legislative and other questions.

Legislative standing

 As an adviser to governments and national interest groups Norman Palmer has been instrumental in securing the enactment of several statutes including:

  • the Sale of Goods Act (Amendment) Act 1995,
  • the Treasure Act 1996,
  • the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003,
  • the Human Tissue Act 2004,
  • the Tribunals Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, Part 6,
  • the Coroners and Justice Act 2009,
  • the Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act 2009 and
  • the Protection of Cultural Objects on Loan Act 2013 (Commonwealth of Australia).


Professional reputation

Norman Palmer QC has been reported as "excellent" in a survey of solicitors about counsel advising on banking law (The Lawyer) and as "distinguished" in the field of art and cultural property law (The Times Law Section).  His work has received numerous commendations from public authorities and clients.

Ongoing advisory work

Since 2012 Norman Palmer QC has

  • Played a determinative role in the agreed return to Hungary in March 2014 of seven pieces of late-Roman silver and a copper cauldron, constituting a portion of the larger hoard known as the Sevso Silver, removed from its place of discovery some three and a half decades previously. Norman Palmer was first instructed by Hungary in this matter thirteen years ago and has acted for it over the intervening period. The recent return represents the culmination of a protracted and complex negotiation in which Norman Palmer advised on all transactional and administrative aspects of the matter in England where the Silver was situated.
  • Advised (and continues to advise) a corporation registered in Singapore in regard to the pending litigation of a commercial dispute over the disposition of funds and the interpretation of detailed contractual allocations of responsibility.
  • Advised Leicester City Council on the heritage law and personal property law aspects of the discovery and exhumation of the remains of King Richard III.
  • Advised on the interpretation of a substantial commercial servicing contract and on the insolvency of an airline company on behalf of clients in Hong Kong.
  • Advised on the legal status of material produced during nineteenth century colonial expeditions, on the legal exposure of institutions accused of acquiring objects alleged to have been unlawfully taken from Indian institutions, on the legal repercussions of chronic theft from libraries and kindred institutions and on the legal constraints affecting ancient material emanating in modern times from Egypt,
  •  Advised the Art Gallery of New South Wales and other Australian museums on the drafting and implementation of Commonwealth legislation conferring immunity from legal process on parties engaged in cross-border art loans.  This has been a continuous engagement from September 2009.  In March of this year his work culminated in the passing of a radical new statute, the Protection of Cultural Objects on Loan Act 2013, which is expected to come into force later in 2013.  Following this enactment Norman Palmer was instructed by the Government of New Zealand (Ministry of Culture) to advice on the terms of immunity legislation for art bailments.
  • Advised several foreign governments on the recovery of specific cultural objects and the revision of laws to protect their national cultural heritage.
  • Drafted bailment terms for the cross-border lending of art from private collectors in the United States and elsewhere to museums in Europe, and from museums to museums in various jurisdictions
  • Advised private collectors and learned institutions on claims and transactions relating to Holocaust-related works of art and other cultural and historic material
  • Given expert evidence to the US government on the proprietary status under English law of cultural material emanating from eastern Asia
  • Advised overseas claimants in respect of art located in a United Kingdom national museum
  • Advised overseas claimants on potential claims in bailment against US museums culminating in reported authority in a US court upholding this basis of claim
  • Advised the Ministers of Culture of the Member States of the Arab League on subscription and adherence to the UNESCO Convention 1970 and other cultural conventions.  On their instructions Norman Palmer drafted the Schedule of Recommendations for Further Action, adopted at the Plenary session of the Educational, Cultural and Social Organisation of the Arab League (‘ALECSO’) at its Plenary Assembly at Algiers in March 2012.
  • Appeared as counsel for the Claimant in Andre v Clydesdale Bank plc [2013] EWHC 169 (Ch).

In the preceding year Norman Palmer QC advised the following clients:

  • Private collections in England, Switzerland and Australia on contentious and non-contentious matters.
  • The National Gallery of Australia on matters related to the collaborative acquisition of art.
  • The Vicar and Churchwardens of the Church of St Olave, Hart Street, in their successful claim to recover the seventeenth century alabaster bust of the noted physician Dr Peter Turner.  The statue had been removed from the church after it was bombed during the blitz in 1941 and had vanished from the public domain until its reappearance in 2010 at an auction house in England.  It is now re-installed in the Church.
  • The successful Defendant in the early stages of Spencer v S Frances Ltd [2011] EWHC 1269 (QB) and settled pleadings for the hearing in the High Court. The matter, which concerned a claim by the conservators and authenticators of certain historic Spanish embroideries to retain them until payment of their costs, raised complex questions of the law of bailment, lien and restitution. The judgment of Thirlwall J refers to the "helpful and erudite" analysis of relevant principles in the third edition of Palmer on Bailment (2009).

Public services

Norman Palmer QC continues to represent the United Kingdom on international committees responsible for the development of policies and principles governing the cross-border movement of cultural property.   

  • In November 2012 he was a member of the UK delegation to the international symposium on Fair and Just Solutions to Claims for the Return Holocaust–related Cultural Objects, convened by the Dutch Restitution Commission at The Hague.  At the invitation of the Dutch chairmanship he delivered the keynote address to the conference. 
  • As the United Kingdom representative to the Expert Committee on States’ Ownership of Cultural Heritage he attended the final meeting of the Expert Committee at UNESCO in Paris on 29th June 2011 and contributed to the final drafting and formalization of new Draft Model Provisions on State Ownership of Undiscovered Cultural Objects. He has been a member of this Committee since its inception in 2009. The Committee’s final Report and Conclusions were presented to the Seventeenth Session of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation on 30th June to 1st July 2011, and were formally recommended for dissemination to member states.
  • On the same occasion Norman Palmer also participated in the proceedings of the Hermes Research Group 2011 on Regulations Regarding the Ownership of Cultural Goods.

 In recent years much of Norman Palmer’s work has involved the chairmanship or membership of various cultural law and policy advisory committees to which he has been appointed by successive Ministers for the Arts.

  • Norman Palmer continues to act as an expert adviser to the Spoliation Advisory Panel, to which he was appointed in May 2000.
  • For ten years until 5th May 2011 Norman Palmer chaired the Treasure Valuation Committee.  During that time the Committee administered an unprecedented number of archaeological finds and adopted many reforms aimed at expediting the treasure process, including the introduction of a fast-track system for the valuation of certain antiquities and the adoption of principles of active case management. Among the tasks assigned to the Committee under his Chairmanship were the valuation of the Staffordshire Hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold in 2009 and valuation of the Frome Hoard of Roman coins in 2010.
  •  From 2000 until 2005 he chaired the Illicit Trade Advisory Panel and from 2000 until 2003 he chaired the Ministerial Working Group on Human Remains in Museum Collections.  The reports of both of these committees, in 2001 and 2003 respectively, led to changes in the law.


Notable recent cases

Significant cases include:

  •  Andre v Clydesdale Bank plc [2013] EWHC 169 (Ch)
  • Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran v. Barakat Galleries Ltd [2009] QB 22; [2007] EWCA Civ. 1374.
  • Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre v Trustees of the Natural History Museum (2007)
  •  Bakwin v Erie Trading Ltd [2005] 22nd November (High Court, Master Rose)
  • Marcq v Christie Manson & Woods Ltd [2004] QB 286 (Court of Appeal)
  • Wincanton Ltd v P & O Trans European Ltd [2001] EWCA Civ 227
  • Mayflower Foods Ltd v Barnard Bros Ltd and Others (1996) 9th August (High Court, Manchester)
  • Euro Commercial Leasing Ltd v Cartwright and Lewis [1995] 2 BCLC 618
  • Re Stapylton Fletcher Ltd [1995] 1 All ER 192
  •  Photo Productions Ltd v Securicor Ltd [1980] AC 827 (advised the Securicor company on its successful appeal to the House of Lords)

Norman Palmer continues to advise the Art Gallery of New South Wales and other museums and learned societies on the implementation of immunity legislation and the drafting of transactions to provide for immunity.

Expert witness evidence

In August 2012  Norman Palmer gave expert evidence on the effect under English law of an auction of material alleged to have been looted from a site in eastern Asia.

In November 2007 he appeared as an expert witness on English museum law and practice in the matter of Trustees of the Beaverbrook Foundation v Beaverbrook Art Gallery an arbitration hearing before the Hon Peter Cory (formerly a Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada) heard at Fredericton, New Brunswick and Toronto, Ontario.

Norman Palmer has given expert evidence in other matters, including the English law on limitation periods for the guidance of the New York court.


 Norman Palmer has written and edited numerous major works within his fields of expertise, including:

  • Taking it Personally: the Individual Liability of Museum Personnel (2011) 
  • Palmer on Bailment (1979, second edition 1991, third edition November 2009)
  • Art Loans (1997)
  • Interests in Goods (first edition 1993, second edition 1998)
  • The Recovery of Stolen Art (1998)
  • Museums and the Holocaust (2000)
  • Cultural Heritage Statutes (second edition 2004)
  • Halsbury's Laws of England (sections on Bailment, Carriers, Confidentiality, Damages, Libraries and other Scientific and Cultural Institutions, Lien, and Tort
  • Crossley Vaines on Personal Property (5th edn, 1973).

Norman Palmer is a contributor to the Encyclopaedia of Forms and Precedents, English Private Law, and The Laws of Australia. He founded and co-edits the quarterly periodical Art Antiquity and Law, first published by the Institute of Art and Law in 1996 and now in its nineteenth year.

Publications by Norman Palmer have been cited by the appellate courts of leading common law jurisdictions. Examples are the House of Lords, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the Court of Appeal, the High Court of Australia, the Supreme Court of Canada, the Court of Appeal of New Zealand, the Court of Appeal of New South Wales and the Court of Appeal of British Columbia.

Palmer on Bailment has attracted, among many others, the following commendations:

  • "Palmer on Bailment belongs to that small and elite class of legal works which transcend the ordinary bounds of textbook-writing by giving their subject a coherence, a shape and a basis in principle which was previously absent, not merely comprising a compilation of decided cases but commanding recognition as an important source of authority in their own right. The first two editions have been cited with well-earned respect in many judicial decisions" (Lord Bingham of Cornhill in the foreword to the 3rd Edition)
  • "... the standard and authoritative text ... the product of immense scholarship in a territory which seems to know no boundaries ... instructive, indeed illuminating, discussion of countless points of interest ... attention to detail, meticulous though it is, does not obscure the exposition of concept and principle which is the abiding strength of the new edition ..." (Sir Anthony Mason AC, KBE, in the Foreword to the 2nd Edition)
  • “.. a work which contains much useful material” (Lord Justice Mance in East West Corpn v DKBS AF 1912 A/S [2003] QB 1509)
  • “Palmer's seminal work on Bailment” (Mr Justice Brereton in Pangallo Estate Pty Ltd & ors v Killara 10 Pty Ltd [2007] NSWSC 1528)
  • “… so far as we know, this is all best explained in Professor Palmer’s book” (Lord Judge CJ in Yearworth v North Bristol NHS Trust [2009] EWCA Civ 39).
  • “… Professor Palmer’s invaluable book on Bailment …”; (Professor F M B Reynolds in (1995) 111 Law Quarterly Review 8)

Speaking engagements

Over the past three years Norman Palmer has addressed conferences and seminars at Berlin, Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane, Brussels, The Hague, Heidelberg, Seoul, St. Petersburgh, Algiers, Lovech and Rousse (Bulgaria), Montreal, Milan, Paris, Geneva, Basle, New York, Chicago,London and Birmingham. The following is a representative sample.


  • At Geneva in June 2014 he addressed an international conference convened by the Art-Law Centre of the University of Geneva on “The Interaction of Law and Ethics in the Public Management of Antiquities and other Cultural and Historical Objects”.


  • At London in June 2014 he delivered a paper for the Institute of Art and Law on “Risk in the Custody and Transit of Cultural Objects: is there a Duty to Insure?” at the offices on the international law firm Clyde & Partners LLP.


  • At Brisbane in March 2014 he delivered the opening speech at the bi-annual Conference of the Australian Registrars Committee on “The Perils and Pitfalls of Museum Transacting”.


  • At London in March 2014 he addressed the United Kingdom Registrars Group on the Impact of Modern Legal Developments on the Structuring of Acquisitions and Loans”.


  • At Chicago in February 2014 he addressed the American Association for the Advancement of Science on “The Legal and Ethical Status of Indigenous and other Human Remains in Museum Collections”.


  • In the same month he addressed in Chicago representatives of the American archeological profession on “State and Syndical Provision of Checks and Incentives to the Reporting and Delivery of Discovered Portable Antiquities: a Comparative Analysis.”


  • At St Petersburg in October 2013 he addressed governmental and other officials, together with representatives of private archaeological enterprises, on “National Models for a Collaborative Approach to Modern Archaeological Inquiry”.


  • At The Hague in October 2012 he delivered the keynote speech, at the invitation of the Director of the Dutch Restitution Commission, at the opening of an international conference on Holocaust restitution title “Just and Fair Solutions”.


  • At Heidelberg in September 2012 he addressed a gathering of jurists and litigators on Models for the Resolution of Claims for the Restitution of Holocaust-Spoliated Art


  • At Sydney in April 2013 he conducted a seminar of government legal advisers and senior museum managers on the newly-enacted Protection of Cultural Objects on Loan Act 2013


  • At Sydney in April 2012 he delivered the Sir Charles Nicholson Lecture on ‘Legal Milestones in the Recovery of Orphaned and Abducted Antiquities’ at the Nicholson Museum at the University of Sydney.


  • At Paris in January 2012 he lectured to members of the syndicates of Euromed and Manumed on ‘Unlocking the Written Heritage: Resolving Title Claims to Ancient Documents and Reversing their Illicit Removal’.


  • At Rousse in December 2011 he addressed a symposium of government ministers, officials and museum officers and law enforcement experts on ‘Antiquities and their Secrets:  Safeguarding the Truth about Cultural Treasures while Managing their Cross-Border Movement’.


  • At Geneva in November 2011 he addressed a specialist workshop on Human Remains and the Mediation of Indigenous Claims held under the auspices of the Art law Centre, and delivered a further lecture on ADR in Cultural Claims.


  • At New York in November 2011 he spoke at a conferences organized jointly by the Institute of Art and Law, 3 Stone Buildings and Herrick Feinstein on ‘Old Wine, New Battles: Developing the Common Law of Museum Liability’, ‘Anti-Seizure: Liberty Liability or lost Opportunity?’ and ‘Transacting in Portable Wealth: Art, Gems and Historic Chattels’.


  • At Basel in June 2011 he addressed a conference for jurists and museum directors, organized by the Faculty of Laws at the University of Basel, on ‘The De-Accessioning of Objects from Museum Collections under Common Law Systems’ and he took part in a filmed panel discussion at ArtBasel (the Basel Art Fair) on the subject of ThePerils and Pitfalls of Transacting in Art, in which he outlined by reference to varied case studies the importance of contract planning and efficient documentation to successful art deals.


  • At Milan in June 2011 he addressed the international symposium on Holocaust Art Looting and Restitution convened by Christie’s. His paper was titled ‘Rapine, Redress and Reconciliation: the Architecture of Holocaust-related Claims’.


  • On 14th July 2011 he chaired the Institute of Art and Law study forum on 'Entrustees and Entrepreneurs in the Art World' and delivered a talk on 'Claims against Possessors of Art and Antiquities: Contemporary Issues in the Law of Bailment'.


Awards and achievements

  • In 2010 Norman Palmer was appointed Queen's Counsel honoris causa, an honorary appointment acknowledging a major contribution to the law of England and Wales independently of court practice. The citation commended "his work both academic and advisory on the law of property applied to art and historical artefacts, and his publications in the field of bailment law."


  • In 2006 Norman Palmer was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire for “services to art and to law”.


Other honours include:


  • Docteur Honoris Causa of the University of Geneva (2005)


  • Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries (2005)


  • Honorary Member of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (2004)


  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (2000)


  • Recipient of the Eleanor and Anthony Vallamobroso Award for Art Crime Scholarship (2009), elected by the Trustees of the Association for the Research into Crime against Art and the Editorial Board of the Journal of Art Crime


  • President of the Foundation for International Cultural Diplomacy, New York (2007 to 2012)

Public appointments

  • Chair, Treasure Valuation Committee (2001 to 2011; member 1996-2001)
  • Chair, Illicit Trade Advisory Panel (2000 to 2005)
  • Chair, Ministerial Working Group on Human Remains in Museum Collections (2001 to 2003)
  • Member, Spoliation Advisory Panel (2000 to 2010)
  • Expert Adviser, Spoliation Advisory Panel (2010 to date)
  • Member, Legal Sub-Committee of the Quinquennial Review of the Export Licensing System (2001 to 2003)
  • Visiting Professor of Law at King's College London (2005 to 2008 and 2009 to date)
  • Emeritus Professor of the Law of Art and Cultural Property at UCL
  • Formerly Professor of Commercial Law at UCL

Other distinctions:

  • Honorary member of Seven Wentworth, the Chambers of David Jackson QC at Sydney NSW
  • Standing International Counsel to the National Gallery of Australia at Canberra.

Seminars and lectures

Professor Norman Palmer lectures on all aspects of his practice, and the modern law affecting cultural objects, both from Chambers, at solicitors’ offices and at venues across the world. Examples of recent talks by him are given earlier.

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