Public display FAQs
Frequently asked questions about public display.
- What is public display?
- Do the public display provisions of the Human Tissue Act apply to Scotland?
- Where can I find guidance on consent, licensing requirements and standards I need to follow?
- What are the consent requirements for public display?
- Are there any exemptions to the consent requirements?
- I would like to exhibit human tissues or materials derived from human tissue. Do I need a licence?
- Are there any licensing exemptions?
- How do I apply for a licence?
- How much does a licence cost?
- What activities are licensed?
- What are the licensing arrangements for items which are stored at more than one site and may be used for public display?
- What standards do I need to comply with in order to obtain a licence?
- I have items which have been archived and have no intention of ever displaying those items. Do I need a licence?
- I have items which may or may not be over 100 years old as I have no records of how old they are. How should I handle them?
- How can I find out if an establishment has a licence from the HTA for public display?
- Does the HTA license exhibitions of plastinated bodies or body parts?
- How does the HTA license temporary exhibitions?
The Human Tissue Act 2004 (HT Act) does not define public display, but the HTA considers public display to be An exhibition or display in which the body of a person, or relevant material which has come from the body of a person, is used for the purpose of being exposed to view by the public.
Relevant material is defined in the HT Act as material other than gametes, which consists of, or includes, human cells. The definition of relevant material covers bodies, body parts, tissues and cells. Relevant material includes human material which is preserved or treated in any way, but does not include embryos outside the human body, or hair and nail from the body of a living person.
The HTA’s code of practice on Public display gives examples of scenarios that are and are not considered to be public display.
No, the remit of the HTA under the HT Act extends to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland has its own legislation, the Human Tissue (Scotland) Act 2006.
Under the Human Tissue Act, appropriate consent must be in place for the storage and use of the body of a deceased person, or relevant material from the body, for public display. Consent must be given in writing whilst the person is alive, for their body, body parts and tissue to be stored and displayed after their death. For consent to be valid it must be given voluntarily and by a person who has the ability to make an informed decision. The person giving consent must also have the best information given to them so that they can make their decision.
Consent in writing is valid:
• if it is signed by the person concerned in the presence of a witness; or
• signed at the direction of the person concerned, in his presence and in the presence of a witness; or
• if the person concerned is an adult, it is contained in the person’s will.
Consent is also required for the display of relevant material from a person who is still living.
Further guidance on consent is available in the HTA’s code of practice on Consent.
The consent requirements do not apply to the display of human remains from people who died more than 100 years ago.
The consent requirements also do not apply to imported material. However, it is good practice for any establishment which imports material for public display into England, Wales and Northern Ireland to put in place effective systems to assure itself that human material is obtained with valid consent.
In addition, consent is not required to display relevant material which was obtained before September 2006 when the HT Act came into force.
The storage and public display of the bodies of deceased people, or relevant material from their bodies, are activities that are subject to licensing under the HT Act. The duration of the display does not affect the requirement for licensing.
A licence for public display is not required:
• to display relevant material from living persons; or
• if more than 100 years have elapsed since the person’s death; or
• if a person who provided the material for public display when they were alive, subsequently dies.
If material is stored as part of a museum archive, and there is no intention of ever putting it on public display, a licence is not required (provided the establishment informs the HTA of this intention in writing).
No – the material is considered to be material from the living, as the person was alive when the material was obtained. So, you will not need a licence to display this material after the person dies.
Please refer to our licence applications, step-by-step guide.
The HTA evaluates all licence applications on a case-by-case basis before it decides whether or not to offer a licence.
Please refer to the fees and payment web page on our website.
Note that the HTA charges a reduced licence fee for establishments which store and display less than 20 items.
There are two licensable activities relating to public display:
(i) Storage of the body of a deceased person or relevant material from a human body for a Scheduled Purpose;
(ii) The use, for the purpose of public display, of the body of a deceased person, or relevant material which has come from the body of a deceased person.
Both activities are covered by one licence fee.
The HTA licensing framework includes a satellite licensing system. Satellite establishments are smaller premises that are under the same governance arrangements as a larger establishment (the hub) and are supervised by the same Designated Individual (DI).
Further information on satellite premises and licences is available on our website.
The HTA has four overarching standards which are consent, governance and quality, premises, facilities and equipment and disposal. The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has put in place a national accreditation scheme with standards relating to the management of collections and the needs of users. The HTA’s standards for public display complement the standards set by the MLA.
The HTA inspects establishments which are licensed for public display. The HTA has published summary compliance reports for the public display sector which summarise compliance with our standards. These reports are available on our website.
Some establishments store material in an archive with no intention of ever putting the material on public display. If this is the case, the establishment should inform the HTA so that it can take a view on whether or not the establishment has to apply for a licence.
If no documentary evidence of the age of the material is available, the establishment can seek to establish the age of the material using scientific methods. If scientific methods cannot be applied or do not provide a conclusive answer, the earliest acquisition date or a written statement from an independent expert can be used as evidence of the age of the material.
If it is not possible to provide such evidence, the establishment will have to apply for a licence.
A list of establishments we license is available on our website.
Yes – the organisers need to apply for a HTA licence.
The organisers have to submit a licence application for public display. The HTA has a risk-based approach to regulation and considers the risk of non-compliance by temporary exhibitions to be high. This is because these exhibitions are held on premises which are not designed for the storage and display of human bodies and tissues. The HTA will undertake an on-site inspection of all temporary exhibitions before they open to the public.