In France, increased sentences for thefts and vandalism of cultural objects

10/8/08 — Cultural policy — Paris, Ministry of Culture — The French Minister of Culture Christine Albanel had stated several times that she wished to have sentences for art work thefts increased (see news item, in French, of 21/12/07), an urgent step as these were until now practically ridiculous (there was no difference between the theft of an ordinary object and one of cultural heritage).
The Ministry of Culture has kept its promise as the law on archives, voted last 15 July, carries several measures which we highly commend. It includes a new article in the penal code (art. 311-4-2) stating that thieves will receive a seven-year prison sentence and a 100,000 euro fine for a listed or registered object, an archaeological discovery or even “a cultural asset from the public domain other than real estate or which is exhibited, held or deposited even temporarily, either in a French museum, a library, a media center or an archive, be it in a location run by either a private or public entity providing a mission of general interest or in a building devoted to religious practice”. Sentences have been increased to ten years and 150,000 euros in the case of aggravating circumstances, especially if the theft is preceded, accompanied or followed by an act of destruction, damage or deterioration. Fines can also be increased to an equivalent of half the value of the stolen object.

As concerns vandalism, the fact that it concerned cultural objects until now only mattered in that sentences went from two to three years and fines from 30,000 to 45,000 euros. From now on, (art. 322-3-1), sentences will rise to seven years in prison and 100,000 euros fine (and can also be up to half the value of the object).

Better yet : these sentences will be identical for the destruction, damage or deterioration of classified, listed or protected buildings (art. 714-1) ! We dare not imagine what could befall, for example, those responsible for the damage to listed staircases (see News item of 23/7/04)… Let us not forget that although these new measures are indeed praiseworthy they will not be truly dissuasive unless they are strictly applied. In line with the wish to further protect cultural goods, Christine Albanel will invite European cultural ministers to Paris on 23 October 2008, along with the directors of major museums and the police in charge of art work thefts to put together a plan for protecting museum objects. This is another excellent initiative, as international cooperation is invaluable for this to be really effective. We would hope that this policy be extended to include not just museums but also religious buildings as these are under an even greater threat.

Version française

Didier Rykner, dimanche 10 août 2008

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