On the 22nd of May 2021, CloudVision was privileged to host Frances D Smith, a dispute resolutions practitioner with expertise in international commercial arbitration and mediation. Frances a polymath, is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Arbitration and Mediation Society Uganda (AMSU), member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators in the United Kingdom. Frances is a dual qualified lawyer- a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales and an advocate of the High Court of Uganda. She holds a Master’s Degree in Transitional Oil and Gas from the University of Derby, UK and a Bachelor’s Degree in French and Sociology.
Frances grew up in Uganda where she was raised by her mother and grandparents. She was born at a time of war where the court system was not as active as it is currently. She attended Bugema Adventist College and Namagasali College School for both her ‘Ordinary’ and ‘Advanced’ levels respectively. Her grandfather was a chief and he handled various disputes in the community. This ignited Frances’ passion for dispute resolution. Unfortunately, she missed the opportunity to study law on scholarship and therefore opted for a degree in French and Sociology. After completing her degree, she worked in the Uganda civil aviation industry. She never lost her passion for dispute resolution. Later, she enrolled to study law in the United Kingdom where she specialized in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). That marked the beginning of her career in ADR.
As a qualified expert in the field, during the webinar, Frances gave a distinction between mediation and arbitration. She defined Mediation as a means of resolving conflicts where the parties to a dispute use a neutral person to assist them in resolving their conflict. She added, that the process is voluntary and a confidential way of resolving disputes between individuals. On the other hand, Arbitration is an alternative way of resolving disputes where the parties to a dispute agree to the involvement of an arbitrator through an arbitral process. Frances mentioned that the decision from an arbitrator is binding on the parties. She however, asserted that there are differences between the two processes. For instance, in arbitration, the parties are bound by the decision of the arbitrator unlike in mediation where there is no decision but rather an agreement or consent between the parties.
Frances’ drive for a career in mediation and arbitration stemed from her childhood experience, when she saw her grandfather settle disputes between communities. This inspired her to structure up a formal arbitration scheme in Uganda which provides extensive training to young lawyers and also provides an arena to those that are interested in venturing into ADR.
According to Frances, the field of Alternative Dispute Resolution is largely occupied by legal professionals. This is attributed to the nature of training that legal professionals receive. However, she noted that mediators do not necessarily have to be lawyers. Anyone with a keen interest in resolving disputes can become a mediator with the requisite training. Frances noted that there is absence of enforcement mechanisms because the processes like mediation are largely party oriented and that there is lack of public awareness.
Frances also listed the advantages of mediation and arbitration. They are on most occasions cost friendly compared to the normal litigation process. Mediation and arbitration are confidential and parties are protected especially in regards to the information disclosed.
There are several lessons from Frances’ story. First, she underscored the importance to live a purpose driven in life. Frances stated that she discovered her purpose in her years of childhood which made it easy for her to focus on her career journey to date. Second, her story empathizes the need to put into practice the knowledge acquired from school. Frances set up an arbitration and mediation society in Uganda using her knowledge and skills in ADR.
To those interested in taking a career path in ADR, Frances advised that students should consider applying to be members of the Arbitration and Mediation Society of Uganda and Chartered Institute of Arbitrators where qualified training is offered. She also encouraged the audience to attend as many seminars and conferences as possible on ADR.
Dispute resolution is an emerging field. The success of Frances serves as a testimony of the opportunities that lay ahead.