Dr. Hannes Hartung, lawyer, and Dr. von Plehwe fight for an important ruling at the Federal Supreme Court.

A burglary is a nightmare for everyone. It is even worse when personal belongings that you have grown fond of are brutally stolen. The famous German painter Hans Purrmann portrayed his wife in the beautiful work Woman in an Armchair in Sorrento in 1924 and later gave it to his daughter. Next to it, the work Bouquet of Flowers from 1939 was stolen

In a landmark ruling, the Federal Court of Justice strengthened owner protection on 19 July 2019. We previously represented the appeal before the Nuremberg Higher Regional Court.

The case came through the eye of the needle of admission by the BGH with a success rate of 4 % on average, thanks to a brilliant non-admission appeal by Mr Rechtsanwalt am BGH Dr Thomas vom Plehwe. It is incomprehensible anyway how often higher regional courts do not allow an appeal because the matters would not be of general importance, which is not true in most cases.

The Federal Supreme Court overturned the judgement of the Nuremberg Higher Regional Court and referred the proceedings back to another senate of the Higher Regional Court.

Redemption is the most frequent acquisition offence in the case of stolen and lost works of art. In principle, ten years of bona fide possession are sufficient for this. For this it is sufficient that the person claimed has possessed the pictures as his or her own for ten years. This is usually the case if the owner is not aware of any evidence of theft or loss.

Unfortunately, case law has always assumed good faith far too generously in many cases. The Federal Court of Justice has now put a stop to this and demanded that the owner must provide a secondary burden of proof has. He must therefore make his good faith plausible, that he had no clues or that he noticed things from which he must conclude that the works cannot belong to him.

In the present case, the defendant's father claims to have bought the extremely expensive works of art in a gallery in Dinkelsbühl. The defendant remained silent about the purchase price. An extremely low purchase price is of course an important point of reference. Works by Hans Purrmann today start the art market at €50,000.

But is there even a gallery in Dinkelsbühl that sells such high-quality works of classical modernism? We did not find a gallery there. Nor was one specifically named by the defendant.

The stolen works were written out signed Hans Purrmannso that after only a short research it must be clear to any layman that he must have something special that is worth a lot.

This was also the case for the buyer of Hans Purrmann's beautiful paintings. He later gave them to his son-in-law for building a house and starting a business. Today, the son-in-law is the defendant. When the defendant, who had been so richly gifted, wanted to turn the paintings into money, he discreetly turned to a Swiss auction house for high-quality art. Nevertheless, he claimed not to have known the high value.

The auction house dutifully enquired at the Purrmann Archive, who advised the auctioneer that the works had been reported stolen. Shortly afterwards, the police visited the car dealer in his workshop. Panic-stricken, the paintings were taken down from the meeting room and hidden from the police in the workshop. Is that what a bona fide owner does?

All this was not enough for the Nuremberg Higher Regional Court. It even denied the plaintiff's claim that the works had been stolen from his villa in Stuttgart, despite the submission of the investigation file. Furthermore, the works might not be by Hans Purrmann, but a forgery. This rather rude handling was not only too much for us, but also for the Federal Supreme Court. The judgement of the Nuremberg Higher Regional Court was appropriate, Shake the public's confidence in the administration of justicesaid Chairwoman of the Federal Supreme Court Stresemann.

But the law itself is still in need. The original intention of the Ersitzung was to help purchasers who had acquired stolen objects in good faith. However, the paragraph is so broad that anyone who has bona fide possession of an object becomes the owner after ten years. The burden of proof against good faith has so far still been on the person stolen. This must be changed urgently.

Mr Bullinger is the lawyer of the Kunstmuseum Bern, the heir to Cornelius Gurlitt's art collection. In a recent article in the FAZ, he makes a blanket denial of any good faith on the part of the generous testator Gurlitt. This is not only indelicate towards Gurlitt and his heiress, it is simply wrong.

In addition to the statute of limitations, the right of recovery is a veritable restitution killer in the case of looted art. If you want fair and equitable solutions, you have to change the distribution of the burden of proof. Incidentally, this is also the view of BGH Chairwoman Stresemann.

We continue to fight and hope that the new senate at the Nuremberg Higher Regional Court will recognise the plaintiff's ownership even before a hopefully imminent change in the law on the acquisition and that the pictures can soon come home.

Dr Hannes Hartung has specialised in international art law since 2002. He brought the case of Hans Purrmann's seated wife before the Federal Supreme Court.