In the High Court decision City of Gotha and Federal Republic of Germany v. Sotheby’s and Cobert Finance S.A. 9 September 1998 (unrep.), Moses J. expressed the view that German limitation law – according to which proprietary claims to chattels are time-barred after thirty years even if the possessor had stolen them from the owner – conflicts with English public policy. As this case illustrates, the effects of the passage of time on proprietary claims to stolen chattels differ widely among jurisdictions. While time does not run in favour of a thief in the UK, other legal systems allow a thief to acquire ownership of the goods he has stolen if he conceals them for long enough. German law occupies an uncomfortable middle ground, by time-barring proprietary claims without reallocating ownership rights. At the heart of these different approaches lies an optimization problem that defies a clear-cut solution. Some solutions, however, seem more convincing than others.


A sandwich lunch will be available from 12.30. The meeting will begin at 1pm.