Shehara Varia FCIArb

Shehara is a partner with F.J & G. de Saram Attorneys at Law in Sri Lanka and is the director of CIArb’s recently launched Sri Lanka branch. Shehara also hold several positions including the Director of the CCC - ICLP ADR Centre which promotes the ADR mechanisms for the resolution of commercial disputes in the country, the Secretary General (Honorary) of the ICLP Arbitration Centre and a Member (Council of Management) of the Institute for the Development of Commercial Law and Practice (ICLP). Shehara graduated from the University of Wales (LLM in International Trade Law) and also completed CIArb’s Diploma In International Commercial Arbitration held in Oxford in 2018.

Why have you decided to specialize in ADR? What attracted you to this area of law?

Very early on in my career when I was wondering what to do, a close friend who was the Secretary General of the ICLP Arbitration Centre that had been set up soon after Sri Lanka had enacted a new arbitration law told me that they were looking for an administrator. As I had an interest in both law and business, the role interested me. She arranged for a discussion with the then Senior Partner of the firm, at which I am now a partner, who was one of the founder members of ICLP and there was no turning back since that day in May 1996. Whilst my practice areas at the firm are Mergers and Acquisitions and Employment, I am actively involved in the administration of ADR on a pro bono basis.

As such my interest is more with regard to the administration of ADR. I believe that proper administration is the backbone of a quick and effective resolution of a dispute. I qualified in both arbitration and mediation for this reason, I feel that I need to have a sound understanding of the substantive components of ADR in order to lead a centre that provides services to international standards in Sri Lanka.

What do you consider as being the biggest challenge for ADR in the future?

ADR being driven by technology and ensuring that there is a balance between technology and the thought process and experience of a human brain is what I consider to be both a present and future challenge.

The use of AI in mediation to predict cost of the dispute etc., is already in use, one wonders what next, a mediator or arbitrator could perhaps be replaced very soon by AI in certain types of disputes. This will change both the practice and administration of ADR.

Are there any interesting developments in the field of ADR in the jurisdiction you are based in?

Yes, there are many developments. The premier business chamber of the country joined hands with the ICLP in 2018 to set up an ADR centre (CCC-ICLP ADR Centre) which has also introduced commercial mediation. The centre has already commenced training mediators and arbitrators internationally and exposing young arbitrators to ARM courses.

The CIArb opened its Sri Lanka branch in 2019. The other significant development is that Sri Lanka was a signatory to the recent Singapore Convention on Mediation. This will enable enforcement of settlement agreements entered in to between international parties once the convention is given effect to by local law.

How has the membership in the CIArb benefit your career so far?

Membership in CIArb has enhanced my exposure to the international ADR Community. The practice and administration of ADR is international and therefore there is so much to learn from other jurisdictions and experienced practitioners. I was fortunate to have seen internationally renowned arbitrators such as Lord Mustill and Sir Michael Kerr at work at a very early stage of my career and that is what perhaps inspired me to be involved in the system followed in the UK.

The practice guidelines and other educational resources and offerings are of very high standard and invaluable to professionals like me who do not practice in ADR but have an interest in learning and being involved in the area. Doing the Oxford Diploma was a life changing experience from both an educational perspective as well as making lasting friendships with like-minded professionals from other jurisdictions.

What do you consider your biggest achievement in the field thus far?

Sustaining a non-profit organization in the field of ADR with limited resources through the last 24 years and seeing the fruition of the joint venture between the CCC and ICLP to develop ADR in Sri Lanka is perhaps my biggest achievement.

Tell us about your interests, hobbies or any outside of work activities.

Travelling, reading and watching movies when time permits. As to out of work activities I like cycling and lately I try to cycle in places I travel to. I have so far been on cycle trails in Bali, USA and New Zealand and it has been an amazing experience.