THE High Court judge in the dispute over a fragment of limestone relief removed from Persepolis has explained why he did not rule that it should be returned to Iran.

Mr Justice Eady, who gave his ruling in January, had to decide between conflicting jurisdictions in a case that could have had serious implication for gallery and museum collections.

The Islamic Republic of Iran, which submitted the claim at the High Court, argued that it had the right to recover the fragment, which formed part of a national treasure, under legal provisions from the early part of the 20th century.

Iran accepted that Denyse Berend, who tried to sell the fragment at Christie’s in London in 2005, had acquired it in good faith at auction in New York in May 1974 and had taken possession of it in Paris in November that year. It was further acknowledged that she had openly displayed the fragment in her apartment for the next 30 years.

Under French domestic law, this would have given her clear title to the fragment. But the claimants argued that Mr Justice Eady should apply Iranian law, adding that under the French rules of private international law, a French judge would have done so.

They further argued that the French courts would have recognised the UNESCO and UNIDROIT Conventions, to which France is a signatory. They provide for the return of illegally exported cultural objects to their state of origin.

However, after much deliberation, the judge was not persuaded that anything but the French domestic law would be applied in France, giving Denyse Berend title.

And he further noted that although France had ratified UNESCO and UNIDROIT, neither had actually yet become part of French law, so he was not persuaded that a French judge would have invoked them.

By Ivan Macquisten