It’s not an easy road for a lawyer to fight for human rights issues in Britain or the US since 9/11, but Shami Chakrabati has fought against anti-terrorist measures and legislation when it has been a wholly unpopular stance. She became the Director of Liberty (The National Council for Civil Liberties) in September 2003, seeing the organization through some of the most troubling times of its existence.
A highly effective communicator, she has voiced her argument through all media.
Among her battles has been attacking the proposed ID cards, the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 (prior to and since becoming law), the wide use of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) as infringing civil liberties, draconian, unnecessary (as there are laws on the statute books which more than adequately cover the same acts) and dangerous quick fix reactionary legislations.
Among her victories has been the Roma case, in which the Courts ruled that the Government acted unlawfully in its attempts to prevent Romany Czechs from entering the UK. At its early stages the case was handled by Chakrabati herself.
Liberty has also maintained a healthy watching brief in the courts on the Home Office’s fast-track system for handling asylum seekers’ applications to remain in the UK, and also made highly publicised challenges to the Government’s detention in UK prisons of suspected terrorists without charge or trial.
In order to fund her Bar Finals Shami held several jobs for two years, including doing a bit of teaching for the University of London external law students and “pulling pints” at the Middle Temple Bar.
She is a Governor of the London School of Economics and sits on the Advisory Board of the British Institute of Human Rights and the Executive Committee of the Administrative Law Bar Association and is an Editorial Board Member of the European Human Rights Law Review.
In 2004 Shami was selected by The Observer newspaper as one of 80 prodigiously talented young people who they believe will shape our lives in the 21st century. In December 2005, the BBC Radio 4 Today programme placed Shami on the shortlist of ten people who may run Britain. She was short-listed in the Channel 4 Political Awards 2006 for the “Most Inspiring Political Figure” award. In a vote made by the public, she came second behind Jamie Oliver, beating Bob Geldof, Tony Blair, David Cameron and George Galloway.
Also in 2005 Shami was named as a winner in the sixth annual Asian Women of Achievements Awards. She memorably had a single in her honour titled “Shami Chakrabarti” by the band the Dastards. Shami was awarded the title of “anarchist in a barrister’s wig” by the ”laddish” magazine, Loaded.