Following the end of the Second World War in 1945, British subjects were invited to register claims for loss or damage to property nationalised or expropriated in foreign countries with the Administration of Enemy Property Department. The British government used the information obtained from such registrations in discussions with foreign governments regarding compensation for the loss of British property, rights and interests, and was initially able to reach agreements with the governments of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.regarding compensation for loss of British property. Under these agreements these countries undertook to pay certain annual sums amounting in toto to £8,000,000 from Czechoslovakia and £4,500,000 from Yugoslavia.
The funds paid by these governments for compensating individuals who had lost rights, property and interests were first administered by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, payments to claimants being made after investigation of the claim by a committee set up for the purpose and presided over by a legally trained chairman. It was subsequently decided that this quasi-judicial function should be presided over by an independent authority, and the Foreign Compensation Commission was established by the Foreign Compensation Act 1950. The Commission distributed funds to claimants under principles and procedures laid down by statutory instruments for each claim fund. The Commission was headed by a Chairman, with a Deputy and several commissioners, one of whom was a full time appointee. There was also a secretariat and a Legal Officer. The Commission liaised with the Claims Department of the Foreign Office, through which it reported to the Secretary of State.
The first task of the Commission were to distribute the compensation granted under the Czechoslovak and Yugoslav agreements. The principles and procedure for dealing with the Czechoslovak and Yugoslav claims were published in Orders in Council (SI 1950 No. 1191 (Czechoslovakia) and SI 1950 No. 1192 (Yugoslavia). These orders together with the Act of Parliament contain what may be described as the Commission's terms of reference. The Act also provided for the Commission to register, report and adjudicate on claims under any subsequent agreements with other countries.
The Commission was a body corporate with its own seal. The seal had to be authenticated by the signature of the Chairman or some other authorised Commissioner and by the Secretary or some other person authorised to act in his place for the purpose. Officers and servants of the Commission were appointed by the Commission.
The work of the Commission fell into three parts: administration, legal and judicial;
- (1) Administration - The Secretary was responsible generally for the administration of the Commission, though two members of the Commission could constitute a quorum for deciding administrative and financial matters. Apart from the questions of accommodation, supervision of staff, conduct of general correspondence and its proper registration, the Secretary was also responsible for the Courts administration. This covered such matters as the issue of application forms and their receipt; the keeping of a Register of Applicants; and keeping the files of proceedings.
- (2) Legal - The Legal Officer represented the interests of the Funds, that is to say the general body of claimants, and submitted to the Commission where necessary arguments showing in what respect an individual claimant had failed fully to prove his claim.
- (3) Judicial - The task of the Commission was to adjudicate on the claims in the light of evidence submitted to it.
The government agreed further compensation funding with the governments of Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and the Soviet Union and, following the Suez crisis, Egypt. These funds were all administered by the Commission. Other agreements followed, principally that with the Peoples' Republic of China which, along with the Soviet fund, was the last to be exhausted in 1993. By this time the secretariat of the Commission was reduced to a skeleton staff, but the organisation was kept in place against the possibility of future compensation agreements being made between the British and other foreign governments.