Shami Chakrabarti

Sharmishta "Shami" Chakrabarti, Baroness Chakrabarti, CBE, PC (born 16 June 1969) is a British Labour Party politician, barrister, and human rights activist. She served as the director of Liberty, an advocacy group which promotes civil liberties and human rights, from 2003 to 2016. From 2016 to 2020, she served as Shadow Attorney General for England and Wales.

The Baroness Chakrabarti

Official portrait of Baroness Chakrabarti crop 2.jpg
Chakrabarti in 2018
Shadow Attorney General for England and Wales
In office
6 October 2016 – 6 April 2020
LeaderJeremy Corbyn
Preceded byKarl Turner
Succeeded byThe Lord Falconer of Thoroton
Chancellor of the University of Essex
In office
2 September 2014 – 22 July 2017
Vice ChancellorAnthony Forster
Preceded byThe Lord Phillips of Sudbury
Succeeded byJohn Bercow
Member of the House of Lords
Lord Temporal
Assumed office
6 September 2016
Life Peerage
Personal details
Sharmishta Chakrabarti

(1969-06-16) 16 June 1969 (age 51)
London, England, UK
Political partyLabour (2016–present)[1]
Martyn Hopper
(m. 1995; div. 2014)
Children1 son
ResidenceLambeth, South London, England, UK
Alma materLondon School of Economics

Chakrabarti was born in the London Borough of Harrow, and studied Law at the London School of Economics. After graduating, she was called to the Bar and then worked as an in-house legal counsel for the Home Office.

When she was the director of Liberty, she campaigned against "excessive" anti-terror legislation. In this role she frequently contributed to BBC Radio 4 and various newspapers, and was described in The Times as "probably the most effective public affairs lobbyist of the past 20 years". She was one of the panel members of the Leveson Inquiry into press standards throughout 2011 and 2012. Between 2014 and 2017, she served as Chancellor of the University of Essex.[3]

In August 2016, Chakrabarti was made a life peer in the Prime Minister's Resignation Honours.

Early lifeEdit

Chakrabarti was born to 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.[4] She was a member of the SDP.[5][6]

Both her parents were educated in Roman Catholic schools in Calcutta, while she herself attended a Baptist Sunday school as a child. In 2007 she broadcast a Lent talk for BBC Radio 4.[4] She identifies as a feminist.[7]

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 finally in 1997.[8] After graduating with an LLB degree in 1991,[9] Chakrabarti was called to the Bar by the Middle Temple in 1994.[10] In 1996, she started working as a barrister for the Home Office.

On 10 September 2001, she joined the human rights organisation Liberty.[11]


Chakrabarti in 2014

After working as in-house counsel, Chakrabarti was appointed director of Liberty in 2003. As director, she campaigned against what the pressure group saw 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.[12]

Chakrabarti is a frequent contributor to BBC Radio and TV 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 by David Aaronovitch in The Times as "probably the most effective public affairs lobbyist of the past 20 years".[14]

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."[15]

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.[16]

Chakrabarti stepped down as the director of Liberty on 31 March 2016.[17][18] Martha Spurrier was announced as her successor.[19]

Andy BurnhamEdit

In June 2008, Andy Burnham, the British Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, made what Chakrabarti claimed were "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".[20][21]

Damian GreenEdit

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."[22][23]

Phil ShinerEdit

Phil Shiner is a British former human rights solicitor and was Head of Strategic Litigation at Public Interest Lawyers (International) from 2014 until the firm's closure in August 2016, when he was struck off the roll of solicitors in England and Wales over misconduct relating to false abuse claims against British troops.[24] Shiner's disgrace resulted in criticism by former army officers of Chakrabarti and her support for Shiner.

Johnny Mercer MP, a retired Army captain, chided Chakrabarti "almost child-like understanding of military operations" and for "trying to retrospectively apply European Human Rights Law to the battlefield". Richard Kemp, a retired Army colonel and commander of the first Task Force Helmand in Afghanistan in 2003, accused Chakrabarti of being "one of [Shiner's] greatest supporters". He said that she had been saddened by Shiner's downfall and had said that, before "losing his way", he had "given good service to the public" and "did some very good work that has been upheld by a judicial inquiry".[25]

London School of EconomicsEdit

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."[26] In 2009 Shami Chakrabarti called Prevent the “biggest spying operation in Britain in modern times”.[27]

Howard Davies, LSE Director at the time, resigned over the issue, citing "personal error of judgement."[28] Chakrabarti was accused of hypocrisy by the Student Rights project of the Henry Jackson Society [29] 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.[30] Anthony Glees, director of Buckingham University's Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies, also said Chakrabarti should resign.[31]

On 9 December 2011, Chakrabarti wrote to the Metropolitan Police asking them to investigate the legality of the donations.[32] 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.[33]

Leveson InquiryEdit

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".[34]

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.[35]

She was one of two panel members to waive their right to claim fees or expenses for the duration of the inquiry.[36]

Labour PartyEdit

Labour Party inquiryEdit

After her appointment in April 2016 as chair of an inquiry into antisemitism and other forms of racism in the Labour Party, Chakrabarti announced that she had joined the party in order to gain members' trust and confidence, and expressed confidence that this would not compromise her independence.[37] Chakrabarti criticised the Conservative Party for not conducting their own enquiry into Islamophobia, following allegations from Sayeeda Warsi in the London's 2016 mayoral election against Sadiq Khan.[38] The Chakrabarti Inquiry report was published in June 2016 and concluded that Labour was "not overrun by anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, or other forms of racism," but that there was an "occasionally toxic atmosphere".[39]

Jeremy Corbyn announced her as the only Labour appointment to the House of Lords in August 2016. This was a necessary step to her subsequent appointment as Shadow Attorney General. However, some (including Labour MPs Tom Watson and Wes Streeting) saw this as creating the potential for bias in what should have been an independent inquiry.[40] When asked about the appointment, a spokesman for Corbyn said that Chakrabarti was "an ideal appointment to the Lords".[41]

Labour peerage and shadow cabinetEdit

On 6 September 2016, she was created a life peer as Baroness Chakrabarti, of Kennington in the London Borough of Lambeth.[42] The following month, she was appointed Shadow Attorney General for England and Wales to the Shadow Cabinet of Jeremy Corbyn.

Anglo-American relationsEdit

Chakrabarti is an alumna of the British-American Project,[43][44] and has been a governor of the Ditchley Foundation.[13][45]

Personal lifeEdit

Chakrabati was married to Martyn Hopper, a litigation lawyer, from 1995 until they divorced in 2014.[4]

She opposes grammar schools on the grounds of social divisiveness and because she says they enforce segregation.[13][46][47] Her son attends £18,915-a-year (2016–17 academic year tuition fees) public school Dulwich College, leading many to attack her views on education as hypocritical.[48][49][50]

She lives in Lambeth, South London.[51]

Her favourite novel is To Kill a Mockingbird.[52]

Awards and honoursEdit

She is a member of the Foundation for Information Policy Research advisory council.[53]

She was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2007 Queen's Birthday Honours.[54]

In 2011, she was awarded the President's Medal by the British Academy.[55]

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").[56] 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,[57] and in 2014 she was included in The Sunday Times's "100 Makers of the 21st Century" list.[58][59]

In May 2018, it was announced that she was to be sworn of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom.[60] This usually allows the style ‘The Right Honourable’, however, as a peer, she is already styled as such and therefore uses the post-nominal ‘PC’.


University degrees
Location Date School Degree
  England 1994 London School of Economics Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) [61]
Chancellor, visitor, governor, and fellowships
Location Date School Position
  England 2006 – 2015 Oxford Brookes University Chancellor [62]
  England 7 November 2006 – Middle Temple Master of the Bench [63]
  England 2007 – Goldsmiths, University of London Honorary Fellowship [64][65]
  England September 2014 – July 2017 University of Essex Chancellor [66][67]
  England 2014 – University of Manchester Honorary Law Professorship [68]
  England Nuffield College, Oxford Visiting Fellowship
  England Mansfield College, Oxford Honorary Fellowship
  England  – April 2013 London School of Economics Governor
  England 2016 – Cumberland Lodge Visiting Fellowship [69]
  England 2 March 2017 – Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge Honorary Fellowship [70]
  England 1 February 2018 – University of Bristol Honorary Law Professorship [71]
Honorary degrees
Location Date School Degree
  England 19 July 2005 Loughborough University Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) [72]
  England 2006 University of Roehampton Doctorate [73]
  England 2006 Sheffield Hallam University Doctor of the University (D.Univ.) [74]
  England 2007 Staffordshire University Doctor of the University (D.Univ.) [75]
  England 2007 University of East Anglia Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) [76]
  England July 2007 University of Hull Doctorate [77]
  England 25 July 2008 University of Sussex Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) [78]
  England 1 May 2009 Open University Doctor of the University (D.Univ.) [79]
  England 15 July 2010 University of Exeter Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) [80][81]
  England 21 July 2010 University of Southampton Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) [82][83]
  Wales 13 July 2011 University of Glamorgan Doctor of the University (D.Univ.)[dead link][84][85][86][87][88]
  England 18 July 2011 Middlesex University Doctorate [89]
  England 4 December 2012 Newcastle University Doctor of Civil Law (DCL) [90][91]
  England 2013 York St John University Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) [92]
  Wales 13 July 2015 Cardiff Metropolitan University Doctor of the University (D.Univ.) [93]
  England 4 September 2015 Oxford Brookes University Doctor of the University (D.Univ.) [62][94][95]
  England 2015 Brunel University London Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) [96]
  England 9 December 2016 University of London Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) [97]

On LibertyEdit

On Liberty, Chakrabarti's first book, was published by Allen Lane in 2014.[98] In November 2015, the settlement was announced of a High Court libel case brought by Martin Hemming, formerly the Legal Adviser to the Ministry of Defence, concerning false allegations made by Chakrabarti. The publishers apologised for the "hurt and distress caused" by the allegations, confirmed they were "without foundation", and agreed to pay Hemming damages and legal costs.[99][100]

See alsoEdit

  • Taking Liberties – a film in which Shami Chakrabarti was one of the participants


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External linksEdit

Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by
John Wadham
Director of Liberty
Succeeded by
Martha Spurrier
Academic offices
Preceded by
Jon Snow
Chancellor of Oxford Brookes University
Succeeded by
Katherine Grainger
Preceded by
Andrew, Lord Phillips of Sudbury
Chancellor of the University of Essex
Political offices
Preceded by
Karl Turner
Shadow Attorney General
Orders of precedence in the United Kingdom
Preceded by
The Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
Baroness Chakrabarti
Followed by
The Baroness Cavendish of Little Venice