Legal news

Converting possession to ownership

The Scottish Law Commission (SLC) has, this week, published a report on prescription and title to moveable property.

The Report recommends changes to clarify the law about the effect of the running of time on ownership of corporeal moveable property.

If you possess an object like a painting or an antique for many years, without actually having ownership, do you eventually become the owner? The present law is unclear. This, it is felt, makes Scotland contrast unfavourably with the position in most other countries.

The SLC has recommended two new rules which would convert possession to ownership.

The first would apply where the person possessing the object reasonably believes that he or she is the owner, but turns out not to be – usually because the person from whom the object was bought was not the true owner. Provided that the possessor is in good faith, he or she would become owner after possessing the object for a continuous period of 20 years.

The second would apply to lent or deposited property where the owner can no longer be traced. Although the rule is general in application, it is particularly aimed to help museums and galleries. Under the new rule, the holder of the object would be able to claim ownership if the owner had not been in contact for 50 years and could not be traced using reasonable diligence.

The hope is that this certainty of ownership will assist museums and galleries in cataloguing and managing their collections.

"Our reforms will bring clarity and certainty to the law,” said Dr Andrew Steven, the lead Commissioner on this project. “This will increase the marketability of long-lived moveable assets and should bring economic benefit too. Scots law will have two new rules which let possession of an object eventually mature into ownership, but with appropriate safeguards to protect the original owner. This will replace the vacuum in the existing law.”


May  2012


  • Pinsent Masons promotions (31 May 2012)
  • EU-wide civil law protection from stalkers (30 May 2012)
  • New legal services regulations (29 May 2012)
  • Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill (24 May 2012)
  • Previous convictions in court (23 May 2012)
  • Better support for victims and witnesses (22 May 2012)
  • National Library of Scotland Bill (17 May 2012)
  • First charitable company converts to SCIO (16 May 2012)
  • Proceeds of Crime figures (15 May 2012)
  • Cross-border defamation by the press (11 May 2012)
  • Converting possession to ownership (09 May 2012)
  • New Partners for Shepherd and Wedderburn (08 May 2012)
  • Fire and police reform report (03 May 2012)
  • Four new partners for Dundas & Wilson (01 May 2012)