Baroness Shami Chakrabarti talks about human rights with LSST students
By Kunal Chan Mehta | Article Date: 6 March 2017
Human rights are the very rights and freedoms that belong to everyone regardless of gender, place, age and life-style. These rights are based on values such as fairness, equality and respect. Yet, although these rights can never be taken away, they can be restricted.
Photo source: 39 Essex Chambers, photograph by Roddy Paine
Today both human rights and civil liberties are synonymous with Baroness Shami Chakrabarti – the esteemed shadow attorney general for England and Wales and former longstanding director of Liberty – the National Council for Civil Liberties.
For her exemplary work, Baroness Chakrabarti has been honoured with numerous doctorates, an honorary professorship and a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). She writes habitually for the Guardian newspaper, regularly appears on televised debate panels and is the author of On Liberty. No wonder Baroness Chakrabarti is considered Britain’s leading human rights campaigner.
Mr Ali Jafar, LSST’s director of marketing and admissions, presents Baroness Chakrabarti with a selection of challenging and topical questions from LSST students:
1. What do you do as a human rights lawyer, campaigner and Labour’s Shadow Attorney General?
I spent eleven years as director of Liberty – the civil liberties and human rights advocacy group – fighting for the rights of individuals during a markedly authoritarian political decade and helping people to better understand their rights and freedoms. During this time, Liberty successfully campaigned against proposals to extend the number of days an individual can be held in custody before being charged, the illegal practice of ‘stop and search’ and the introduction of ID cards, which threatened data protection and privacy.
I intend to continue this work, protecting the vulnerable from the powerful and upholding checks and balances, from within the office of the Shadow Attorney General. I have always been concerned with holding government to account – from where better to do this than as part of the Shadow Cabinet?
2. You stated that your next frontier is an online world that respects human rights. How is that going?
The internet is the greatest technological innovation of our lifetime, it has had a profound effect on our society and continues to shape the world around us. Like the printing press before it, it has been a huge force for freedom, equality and democracy, allowing unprecedented access to information and giving a voice to previously unheard peoples. In equal measure, however, the internet has proved a largely-unpoliced platform for misogyny, racism, xenophobia and legion other forms of hate. Protecting rights in this cyber-forum is a new challenge for legislators, for law enforcement and for society and in so many ways, society, politics and law seem slow to catch up with and respond to the new online world. This leaves a dangerous void. The answer is not blanket-surveillance or restrictions on free speech but police and prosecutorial authorities who are educated on the dangers and consequences of online abuse and sufficiently resourced to act to protect rights as well as freedoms in this new world.
3. Are the rights of the ordinary Briton under serious threat from the challenge to the Human Rights Act?
The Tory pledge to replace the HRA with a ‘British Bill of Rights’ represents an existential challenge to both rights and freedoms in the UK. Repeal of the HRA would leave every man, woman and child in this country incredibly vulnerable to abuses of power, robbing us of the opportunity to hold the government to account through judicial challenge. The HRA is a gloriously simple and vital piece of legislation, which protects all of us. The substitution of the word ‘human’ for ‘British’ undermines the universality of human rights and is about nothing more than pandering to xenophobia – an impulse that we must resist even more forcefully in a post-Trump world.
4. What will Trump’s executive order hold for the future?
Trump’s use of executive orders to limit the reproductive rights of women; to spurn desperate refugees; to single out specific Muslim countries (those which Trump does not have business ties to) for discrimination, stigma and abuse; and to build a wall along the Mexican border has tested the limits of law and executive power in the USA. The successful judicial challenge to the unilateral order on immigration, which saw the Ninth Circuit of Appeals uphold a temporary restraining order blocking the Trump administration from enforcing their motion, represents a significant victory for the champions of the rule of law and due process. However, the assault on liberal and progressive values (and the media) launched by the new US President in his first thirty days in office demands that we guard those British values of democracy and human rights even more closely. The PM’s response to Trump’s policies – poignantly illustrated by the ‘hand-gate’ incident – have been lackluster at best, though this is little wonder given her own record on fundamental rights and freedoms. This stands in sharp contrast to Jeremy Corbyn, who has a spent his lifetime in public service campaigning for human rights. Surely, now more than ever, we need a leader who will stand up for the essential values that uphold our democracy?
5. You are considered to be the most effective public affairs lobbyist of the past 20 years. What drives you?
I continue to be driven by my values and my belief in dignity, equality and fairness.
Note from the Deputy CEO:
LSST wishes to collectively thank Baroness Chakrabarti and her colleagues for their valued support and acknowledging LSST’s proud partnerships with the University of West London and London Metropolitan University.
Further, I individually thank Baroness Chakrabarti for her value-added efforts in challenging and changing, in part, the human rights agenda; and for motivating so many practitioners in the sphere it houses.
LSST is clearly an apolitical organisation but human rights are for every person at every moment from birth to death. It is a debate to be had for every academic institute as human rights are not just ‘political’ abstract concepts – they are rights protected by law.
I again commend and congratulate LSST’s marketing team for supporting and motivating our students in such an inspired way.
To take part in future interviews with senior managers, editors and company executives please email firstname.lastname@example.org who will be happy to assist you.
Mohammed Zaidi, Deputy CEO, LSST
Read Baroness Chakrabarti’s articles at The Guardian here: https://www.theguardian.com/profile/shamichakrabarti
For more information on human rights visit: http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/takingliberties/
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