Who? Debaleena Dasgupta, solicitor and legal officer at civil rights organisation Liberty.
Why is she in the news? Represented a seven-year-old boy and his five-year-old brother in a case which saw Central Bedfordshire local education authority admit discrimination after police were called by a school because the children had been given plastic toy guns as presents.
Liberty launched judicial proceedings against the LEA and the government, but the case settled out of court.
The council said: ‘We apologise for how the two boys were treated and the way in which information was handled.
‘While we can confirm that no referral was made here under Prevent [the government’s anti-terrorism strategy], all schools receive regular training on the Prevent strategy to ensure that any potential incidents are dealt with sensitively and appropriately.’
Thoughts on the case: ‘People make assumptions about who will be affected by the Prevent duty, and why. There’s a “no smoke without fire” attitude. Yet the facts of this case defied all of those assumptions. Ultimately, the reason for the school’s call to the police was a deeply flawed law and the colour of the children’s skin.
‘It demonstrates that racism and human rights breaches in the UK are very much an issue.’
Dealing with the media: ‘Difficulties can arise due to the differing work of lawyers and journalists: as lawyers we are trained to be precise and detailed, so we are uncomfortable with unnuanced text, whereas journalists are trained to distil complex matters into short, accessible, articles. Luckily, as a campaigning organisation, Liberty has an excellent press team to keep lawyers in check.’
Why become a lawyer? ‘I always wanted to help assert individuals’ rights against the state. The law is one way of doing that, and when I considered what my skills – and weaknesses – were, being a solicitor seemed to be where I could assist most effectively.’
Career high: ‘On a few occasions, like this one, a successful case has led to a change in law, policy or guidance.’
Career low: ‘Each time there is another round of legal aid cuts I get a sinking feeling because I know more dedicated lawyers will be pushed out of the profession, and fewer people will be able to access justice.’