Human rights advocate Shami Chakrabarti has been appointed as a Labour member of the House of Lords.
Chakrabarti recently stepped down after 12 years as the head of Liberty, the prominent human rights organisation. Her appointment is the only nomination to the House of Lords put forward by the Labour Party in former-Prime Minister David Cameron’s resignation honours list.
The news has attracted controversy as Chakrabarti very recently chaired an inquiry into anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.
The House of Lords is one of the Houses of Parliament (the other being the House of Commons). Members of the House of Lords (known as ‘Peers’) are appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister, rather than being elected by the public. Like the House of Commons, the House of Lords also considers proposed laws and government policies.
Shami Chakrabarti has been one of the UK’s leading human rights advocates for several years. From September 2003 to March 2016, she was the Director of civil liberties and human rights campaign group Liberty.
She was born in London and educated at a state comprehensive school, before completing a law degree at the London School of Economics. She became a barrister in the mid-1990s, initially working at the Home Office before moving to work at Liberty. Both of her parents were immigrants to the UK.
As Director of Liberty, Shami campaigned to ensure that the UK’s anti-terrorism legislation and policies, following the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States and the 7 July 2005 bombings in London, did not disproportionately interfere with human rights. This included campaigning against the introduction of ID cards and opposing the policy of detaining terrorist suspects for 42 days without charge. She is a vocal opponent of torture and of deportation to countries where people face a real risk of torture. She was a panel member for the Leveson Inquiry, a judicial inquiry into media phone hacking in the UK.
Further examples of Shami’s efforts to protect civil liberties and human rights are set out in her book, On Liberty, which was first published in 2014. Shami’s book appeared in RightsInfo’s recommendations of great human rights reads for World Book Day 2016. A quote from Shami has also appeared as one of RightsInfo’s human rights quotes (which are shared each weekday on Facebook and Twitter).
A spokesman for Jeremy Corbyn said “Shami Chakrabarti shares Jeremy’s ambition for reform of the House of Lords. Her career has been one of public service and human rights advocacy“.
Controversy around the appointment
In April 2016, Shami was asked to lead an Inquiry into anti-Semitism (anti-Jewish prejudice) and other forms of racism in the Labour Party. The Inquiry arose from a row within the Labour Party concerning comments from Labour MP Naz Shah and former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, amongst others.
At the end of June, the Chakrabarti’s report concluded that the Labour Party is not overrun by anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or other forms of racism, though there was “clear evidence (going back some years) of minority hateful or ignorant attitudes“.
There was some speculation that Shami’s nomination for membership of the House of Lords was connected with her conducting the purportedly independent anti-Semitism Inquiry.
Reactions to the appointment
Reaction has been mixed. Many people have applauded Shami’s achievements whilst also criticising the timing.
CR: "…the credibility of the Chakrabarti Report lies in tatters…" pic.twitter.com/zJuJaGSCUw
— Chief Rabbi Mirvis (@chiefrabbi) August 4, 2016
At any other time in past ten years a peerage for Shami Chakrabarti would have been applauded – Corbyn has no sense of timing!
— Dan Roper (@Broadland_Dan) August 4, 2016
There is no doubt that Shami Chakrabarti is more deserving of an honour/peerage than most but no point pretending the timing isn't awful.
— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) August 4, 2016
Shami Chakrabarti is obviously a good appointment to the Lords. She will strengthen Labour and legislative scrutiny. (Ducks for cover).
— Daniel Finkelstein (@Dannythefink) August 4, 2016
Whatever you think about the timing of the appointment or Chakrabarti herself, she is likely to be a powerful new voice for human rights in the House of Lords. We will keep you posted on how she gets on.