Shami Chakrabarti

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Shami Chakrabarti
Shami Chakrabarti at Humber Mouth -28June2007.jpg
At Humber Mouth on 28 June 2007
Born Sharmishta Chakrabarti
(1969-06-16) 16 June 1969 (age 49)
Kenton, London, England
Alma mater London School of Economics
Occupation Barrister
Director, Liberty
Political party Social Democratic Party (1985-1987)[1]
Labour (2016-)[2]
Spouse(s) Martyn Hopper (m. 1995; div. 2014)
Children 1 son

Sharmishta "Shami" Chakrabarti CBE (born 16 June 1969) was, from September 2003 to March 2016, the director of Liberty, the British civil liberties advocacy organisation.[4] In September 2014, she took up the role as Chancellor of the University of Essex.[5]

Early life

Chakrabarti was born to Hindu-Bengali parents in the suburb of Kenton in the London Borough of Harrow. Her father, a bookkeeper, has been cited by Chakrabarti as an influence on her gaining an interest in civil liberties. She attended Bentley Wood High School, a girls' comprehensive school, then Harrow Weald Sixth Form College.[6] Chakrabarti was an active member of the Social Democratic Party from 1985 to 1987.[1]

She studied Law at the London School of Economics, at one point acting as a research assistant to Leonard Leigh who wrote a paper on the British approach to terrorism and extradition; the paper was published in early 1997.[7] After graduating with a Bachelor of Laws, Chakrabarti was called to the Bar by the Middle Temple in 1994.[8] In 1996, she started working as a barrister for the Home Office.

On 10 September 2001, she joined the human rights organisation Liberty.[9]


After working as in-house counsel, Chakrabarti was appointed director of Liberty in 2003. As director, she campaigned against what the pressure group sees as the "excessive" anti-terrorist measures that followed the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States, such as the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (ATCSA). The organisation is a prominent opponent of recent counter-terrorism legislation.[10]

Chakrabarti is a frequently invited contributor to BBC Radio 4 and various newspapers on the topic of human rights and civil liberties. The Observer wrote that she puts in "seemingly endless appearances on Question Time and the rolling news bulletins".[11] She was also described in The Times as "the most effective public affairs lobbyist of the past 20 years"[12]

In December 2005, the BBC Radio 4 Today programme ran a poll of listeners to establish "who runs Britain." After many hours of debate, Today placed Chakrabarti on the shortlist of ten people "who may run Britain."[13]

She was shortlisted in the Channel 4 Political Awards 2006 for the "Most Inspiring Political Figure" award. It was voted for by the public and she came second to Jamie Oliver, above Tony Blair, David Cameron, George Galloway and Bob Geldof.[14]

Chakrabarti left Liberty on 31 March 2016. Martha Spurrier was announced as her successor to the post of director.[15]

Andy Burnham controversy

In June 2008, Andy Burnham, the British Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, made insinuations in an interview in Progress magazine at Shadow Home Secretary David Davis's resignation over the 42-day detention for terror suspects. Davis, a Conservative MP, was said by Burnham to have had "late-night, hand-wringing, heart-melting phone calls with Shami Chakrabarti." Chakrabarti received an apology from Burnham for his "innuendo and attempted character assassination".[16][17][18]

Damian Green

File:Shami Chakrabarti.jpeg
At King's College London January 2016

On 18 April 2009, it was reported in The Times and The Daily Telegraph, that policemen who raided the parliamentary office of the Conservative frontbencher Damian Green and arrested him as part of an inquiry into the leaking of Home Office documents, had searched through e-mails and computer documents going back a number of years, using Chakrabarti's name as one of the keywords. The Times reported her as saying that she believed the actions of Scotland Yard's anti-terror squad "raises very serious questions about just how politicised, even McCarthyite, this operation was."[19][20]

London School of Economics

When the London School of Economics accepted a £1.5 million donation from Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Chakrabarti was on the governing board of the institution. Chakrabarti stated that she did not "attend the 2009 Council meeting which approved a donation to the school from Saif Gaddafi's Foundation" and that she "only subsequently raised concerns about links with Mr Gaddafi, given his father's appalling regime." She went on to state that she did not think "the decision in question resulted from anything other than a naive assessment, made in good faith, of the democratic reforming ambitions of the dictator's son."[21]

Howard Davies, LSE Director at the time, resigned over the issue, citing "personal error of judgement."[22] Chakrabarti was accused of hypocrisy by the Student Rights project of the Henry Jackson Society [23] as being "the director of a human rights group while legitimizing murderous regimes" as a governor of the LSE and they called for her (and others) to resign from the LSE.[24] Anthony Glees, director of Buckingham University's Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies, also said Chakrabarti should resign.[25] On 9 December 2011, Chakrabarti wrote to the Metropolitan Police asking them to investigate the legality of the donations.[26] Chakrabarti admitted to feeling "bucketfuls" of embarrassment and shame about the affair and in April 2013 her spokesman confirmed that she had severed all ties with the LSE.[27]

Leveson Inquiry

In July 2011, Chakrabarti was announced as one of the panel members of the Leveson Inquiry, a judicial inquiry into phone hacking in the UK. Chakrabarti described her invitation onto the Inquiry as 'a daunting privilege' and said it reflected Liberty's 'belief in an appropriate balance between personal privacy and media freedom and above all in the Rule of law'.[28]

On behalf of Liberty, Chakrabarti welcomed the principal recommendation of a more robust and independent press self-regulator, but said Liberty would be unable to support the Report's last-resort alternative of compulsory statutory regulation.[29]

She was one of two panel members to waive their right to claim fees or expenses for the duration of the inquiry.[30]

Labour Party antisemitism

Following her appointment on 29 April 2016 as chair of an inquiry into antisemitism in the Labour Party, Chakrabarti announced that she joined the party, and has expressed confidence that this will not compromise her independence.[31][32] Following this, Chakrabarti criticised the Tories for not conducting their own enquiry into Islamophobia, following allegations from Baroness Warsi about Islamophobia in the London's 2016 mayoral election against Sadiq Khan.[33]

International relations

Chakrabarti has been a member of at least two groups which exist to promote Anglo-American political and military co-operation. She is an alumna of the British-American Project,[34][35] and has been a governor of the Ditchley Foundation.[11][36]

Awards and honours

Chakrabarti is Chancellor of the University of Essex, Visiting Fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford, Honorary Fellow of Mansfield College, Oxford and a Master of the Bench of Middle Temple. She has served as Chancellor of Oxford Brookes University, a governor of the British Film Institute, and was a member of the Council and Court of Governors of the London School of Economics until April 2013.[27] She was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2007 Queen's Birthday Honours.[37]

She received honorary doctorates from the School of Law at University of Southampton in 2010[38] and the University of Glamorgan[39] and Middlesex University in 2011.[40] In 2014 she was made an Honorary Professor of Law at the University of Manchester[41]

She was one of eight Olympic Flag carriers at the London 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony (the announcer incorrectly described her as "the founder of Liberty").[42] She was assessed as one of the 100 most powerful women in the United Kingdom in 2013 by Woman's Hour on BBC Radio 4,[43] and in 2014 she was included in The Sunday Times' "100 Makers of the 21st Century" list.[44][45]

On Liberty

On Liberty, Chakrabarti's first book, was published by Allen Lane in 2014.[46]

Personal life

In 1995 Chakrabarti married Martyn Hopper, a City lawyer. The couple have one son.[47][48] The marriage was dissolved in 2014. She lives in London.[49]


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  7. Leonard Leigh, "Terrorism and extradition: a British perspective" in "Terrorism and International Law", Routledge, 1997, pp. 166–184.
  8. "Calls to the Bar", The Independent, 14 October 1994.
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External links

Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by
John Wadham
Director of Liberty
2003 – 2016
Succeeded by
Martha Spurrier
Academic offices
Preceded by
Jon Snow
Chancellor of Oxford Brookes University
Succeeded by
Katherine Grainger
Preceded by
Lord Phillips of Sudbury
Chancellor of the University of Essex
Succeeded by