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 45)
London, England
Residence Lambeth, South London
Alma mater London School of Economics
Occupation Lawyer, Director of Liberty
Spouse(s) Martyn Hopper 1995-2012 (divorced 2014)
Children 1 son
from the BBC programme Desert Island Discs, 2 Nov 2008[1]

Sharmishta "Shami" Chakrabarti CBE (born 16 June 1969) is, since September 2003, the director of Liberty, the British civil liberties advocacy organisation[2] and, since July 2008, the Chancellor of Oxford Brookes University.[3] In September 2014, she took up the role as Chancellor of the University of Essex.[4]

Early life[edit]

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.[5] Chakrabarti was an active member of the Social Democratic Party from 1985 to 1987.[6]

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]

Chakrabarti is an alumna of the British-American Project, which promotes Anglo-American relations,[10][11] and has been a governor of the Ditchley Foundation which aims to promote international, especially Anglo-American, relations.[12][13]


After working as in-house counsel, Chakrabarti was appointed director of Liberty in 2003. As director, she has 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.[14]

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".[13] She was also described in The Times newspaper as "the most effective public affairs lobbyist of the past 20 years"[15]

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."[16]

She was also 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.[17]

Andy Burnham controversy[edit]

In June 2008, Andrew Burnham, then 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".[18][19][20]

Damian Green[edit]

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."[21][22]

London School of Economics[edit]

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."[23]

Howard Davies, LSE Director at the time, resigned over the issue, citing "personal error of judgement."[24] Chakrabarti was accused of hypocrisy by the Student Rights project of the Henry Jackson Society [25] 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.[26] Anthony Glees, director of Buckingham University's Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies, also said Chakrabarti should resign.[27] On 9 December 2011, Chakrabarti wrote to the Metropolitan Police asking them to investigate the legality of the donations.[28] 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.[29]

The Leveson Inquiry[edit]

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'.[30]

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.[31]

She was one of two panel members to waive their right to claim fees or expenses for the duration of the inquiry.[32]

Awards and honours[edit]

Chakrabarti is Chancellor of the University of Essex, Chancellor of Oxford Brookes University (until July 2015), 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 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.[29] She was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2007 Queen's Birthday Honours.[33]

She received honorary doctorates from the School of Law at University of Southampton in 2010[34] and the University of Glamorgan[35] and Middlesex University in 2011.[36] In 2014 she was made an Honorary Professor of Law at the University of Manchester[37]

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").[38] 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,[39] and in 2014 she was included in The Sunday Times' "100 Makers of the 21st Century" list.[40][41]

On Liberty[edit]

On Liberty, Chakrabarti's first book, was published by Allen Lane in 2014.[42]

Personal life[edit]

In 1995 Chakrabarti married Martyn Hopper, a city lawyer. The couple have one son and divorced in 2014.[43][44][45] She lives in Lambeth, South London.[46]


  1. ^ "Shami Chakrabarti". Desert Island Discs. 2 Nov 2008. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 2014-01-18.
  2. ^ "Liberty Director Shami Chakrabarti". Who we are. Liberty80. Retrieved 3 July 2014. 
  3. ^ "Chancellor". Oxford Brookes University. Retrieved 3 July 2014. 
  4. ^ "Essex: Civil rights expert Shami Chakrabarti new Chancellor of Essex University". East Anglian Daily Times. Retrieved 2 September 2014. 
  5. ^ Vallely, Paul (21 June 2008). "Shami Chakrabarti: Heart of the matter – Profiles, People – The Independent". The Independent (London). 
  6. ^ "University of Essex :: Annual Review, 2005–2006 :: Honorary graduates". Retrieved 26 October 2011. 
  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.
  9. ^ "Desert Island Discs featuring Shami Chakrabarti". Desert Island Discs. 2 November 2008. BBC. Radio 4.
  10. ^ "This Year". British-American Project. 2007. Archived from the original on 7 November 2007. Shami Chakrabati of Liberty (and BAP member) will chair a session of BAP members involved in faith 
  11. ^ Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (17 March 2008). "This unhealthy strain of left-wing McCarthyism". The Independent (London). 
  12. ^ "The Governors". Ditchley Foundation. Archived from the original on 26 September 2006. 
  13. ^ a b Doward, Jamie (22 June 2008). "Profile: Shami Chakrabarti, the undaunted freedom fighter". The Guardian (London). 
  14. ^ Chakrabarti, Shami (20 May 2007). "So much freedom lost and on my watch". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 23 May 2010. 
  15. ^ The Times | UK News, World News and Opinion
  16. ^ "Who runs Britain". Today Programme. BBC Radio 4. 2005. Retrieved May 2013. 
  17. ^ Channel 4 Political Awards Retrieved on 30 November 2008
  18. ^ Patrick Wintour "Chakrabarti threatens to sue over Minister's jibe", The Guardian, 20 June 2008
  19. ^ James Chapman "I may sue over David Davis slur, civil rights chief warns Minister", Daily Mail, 19 June 2008
  20. ^ Robert Winnett "Andy Burnham writes letter of apology to Shami Chakrabarti for David Davis comments", Daily Telegraph, 21 June 2008
  21. ^ Sylvester, Rachel; Thomson, Alice (18 April 2009). "Shami Chakrabarti was target in police search". The Times (London). Retrieved 20 October 2009. 
  22. ^ Edwards, Richard; Prince, Rosa; Wardrop, Murray (18 April 2009). "Damian Green raid: police search emails for Liberty head". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 20 October 2009. [dead link]
  23. ^ "Liberty's Director and the LSE", Liberty website, 11 March 2011
  24. ^ Vasagar, Jeevan; Syal, Rajeev (4 March 2011). "Howard Davies insists Gaddafi gifts did not undermine LSE's independence". The Guardian (London). 
  25. ^ Aked, Hilary. "Ironically Named 'Student Rights' Group Exposed by Actual Students". Huffington Post. Retrieved 13 April 2014. 
  26. ^ John Paul "LSE head resigns over Libya link", Jerusalem Post, 6 March 2011
  27. ^ Anna Davis, Peter Dominiczak and Joshua Neicho "LSE chief: It was not a mistake for us to train Libyan officials", Evening Standard, 4 March 2011
  28. ^ "Yard is called in over LSE's £1.5m from Gadaffi son", Sunday Times, 11 December 2011
  29. ^ a b Shami Chakrabarti disowns the LSE - Telegraph
  30. ^ Phone hacking: David Cameron names inquiry panel - Telegraph
  31. ^ Liberty's response to the Leveson Report
  32. ^
  33. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 58358. p. 7. 16 June 2007. Retrieved 9 January 2008.
  34. ^ "UK to honour Shami Chakrabarti with honorary degree". The Times of India. 8 July 2010. Retrieved 21 July 2010. 
  35. ^ Freedom to think. "Watch Shami Chakrabati accept her honorary doctorate". University of Glamorgan, UK. 
  36. ^ "Shami Chakrabarti presented with honorary doctorate". Middlesex University, London. 18 July 2011. Retrieved 28 March 2014. 
  37. ^ "Human rights campaigner joins University". University of Manchester. 10 February 2014. Retrieved 28 March 2014. 
  38. ^ Shami » Spectator Blogs
  39. ^ BBC Radio 4, Woman's Hour Power list
  40. ^ Britain's movers and shakers | The Sunday Times
  41. ^ Paul Stuart | Thomas Heatherwick | The Sunday Times Magazine | Twenty Twentytwenty Twenty
  42. ^ "On Liberty"
  43. ^ Tweedie, Neil (15 June 2008). "Shami Chakrabarti: Why David Davis is right". The Daily Telegraph (London). 
  44. ^ The world of... - Telegraph
  45. ^ "Liberty Director"
  46. ^ BBC - London - People - London People: Shami Chakrabarti

External links[edit]

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