The first-ever legal bid to force the UK to return the Elgin Marbles to Greece has been thrown out by the European Court of Human Rights.
The court ruled that because the alleged theft of the sculptures from the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple took place more than 150 years before the UK signed up to the human rights convention, it did not have the power to consider the lawsuit.
Campaigners for the return of the sculptures pointed out that the court had not made a ruling on the “merits of the case”.
The Greek Government was given extensive legal advice from lawyers Amal Clooney and Geoffrey Robertson, but appears to have decided against taking Britain to court.
Instead, the case against the UK was brought by the Athenians’ Association, a cultural group, after the British Government refused an offer last year
by Unesco to mediate between Greece and Britain.
In its ruling, which was sent to the Athenian Association last month, the European court said: “The Court notes that the marbles were removed from Greece in the early 19th century.
“In order to bring the matter within the temporal jurisdiction of the Court, the applicant has sought to rely on the refusal of the United Kingdom to enter into mediation with Greece concerning the return of the marbles and the continuing refusal to return the marbles.
“However, it is clear from the nature of the applicant’s complaints that its underlying grievance is the allegedly unlawful removal of the marbles from Greece. The removal having occurred some 150 years before the Convention was drafted and ratified by the respondent state, the applicant’s complaints would appear to be inadmissible.”
The judges also said the Athenians’ Association did not have “any right … to have the marbles returned to Greece”.
The Athenians’ Association’s legal representative, Vassilis Sotiropoulos, said the case was a “first step”.
He claimed the judgement could actually help the Greek Government take legal action in the future.
“Globally, this first statement of the European Court, historically the first court judgement, on the subject of the Parthenon Marbles highlights the points that Greece should focus on with particular attention in her recourse against the United Kingdom,” Mr Sotiropoulos said.