A Visit with Scotland Yard

Fortunately, I wasn't under arrest when my fellow appraiser Ellen Epstein and I spent the morning in Scotland Yard last week.  We were in London for the Arts and Antiques PG Board Meeting, for the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and were visiting Scotland Yard on official appraisal business. 

At Scotland Yard my colleague from RICS and I, met Detective Sergeant Claire Hutcheon, head of the “Organized and Economic Crime Command – Art & Antiques Unit.” Detective Hutcheon, an attractive woman who has worked for Scotland Yard for more than 14 years, discussed with us some of the experiences she had had in her career; but like much of police work un-publishable until the perpetrator is behind bars.

However, as representatives of RICS Personal Property/Art & Antiques Committee we were specifically interested in the professional standards for valuers (appraisers) in London. For example: what does it take to be taken seriously by the police if asked to value stolen or missing works of art?  Compared to the USA, Europe’s requirements for appraisers are far below those of US practitioners, something that is readily admitted by everyone in the London art world. In some countries there are no discernible standards at all. However, Detective Hutcheon mentioned that England and France were working towards an agreement that would raise the level of professional standards.

Change seems to be in the air. Those with whom we spoke – police, attorneys, non-profit organizations, and representatives of professional entities, stated that they hope for a tightening of the rules governing appraisals by independent appraisers.  We were told that at the moment, the only due diligence generally performed is through the Art Loss Register, which affirms whether a work has been stolen. 

 View from the roof of the RICS building in Parliament Square

View from the roof of the RICS building in Parliament Square

It is anticipated that this will change with the implementation of The Red Book, which would be an international source of regulations and standards for appraisers worldwide. This document would help to unify standards globally, whether dealing with real estate or fine art.  Even now regulations are being standardized internationally, as are the ethical rules imposed on all practitioners.  It may not be long before The Red Book becomes required reading for those internationally who have any participation in the world of art.

There are well over 160,000 RICS members worldwide and growing.  At the moment there are relatively few practitioners in America, but the world is opening up and I can see a future where there are singular and stringent regulations regarding good business practice in all nations. Sort of a One World concept, but not altogether so bad a thought.

Written by Elin Lake-Ewald