Credo: Shami Chakrabarti

Director of Liberty, 39
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The Independent Online

I believe...

I was singularly unqualified to be the director of Liberty, knowing nothing about campaigning or fundraising. I was just a lawyer. But I applied and somebody or other was foolish enough to give me the job. That was over five years ago now.

If I didn't do this work, I'd be sitting in the pub complaining about ID cards. Now I have the privilege to do it with a microphone in front of me.

I've got the most fantastic colleagues,most of them are quite young and all of them are working for pretty pathetic salaries. We all share values and we all work together. It's a happy ship.

Liberty is like a foster child. You know you're going to give it back eventuallybut it's also very precious. You reallywant to look after it, because it plays such an important part in democratic debate in this country.

During the years of prosperity, our politicians did so much to attack rights and freedoms. It's going to be even harder during times of austerity.

If you're not an optimist, you can't do this work because, even though we have to talk about miserable things, at the end of the day the vision is not a nightmare, it's a dream. It's through being positive and constructive that you can make changes.

I learnt more about human rights from To Kill a Mockingbird than from all the law books in the world.

Britain is the oldest unbroken democracy on earth. These values run very deep and, if politicians aren't careful, they're going to be way out of step with basic common decency and public opinion.

My parents always led me to believe I could do anything I wanted to. They're very kind, decent people. If I had nine lives, I would probably do something different in each of them. I had big dreams of being a screenwriter when I was younger. Through the cinema, you can reach out to so many more people than you can through political speeches and legislation.

Shami Chakrabarti is one of 2008's Women of the Year, www.womenoftheyear.co.uk

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