A new report has suggested that while celebrities have used the Human Rights Act to protect their rights, vulnerable groups have been missing out.
Published its findings on "human rights day", the Institute for Public Policy Research said that famous figures like Catherine Zeta Jones have used the legislation but that people like residents of care homes have failed to get the full benefit from the Act.
The research concludes that the voluntary sector can play a crucial role in helping the most vulnerable people claim their human rights while avoiding the courts.
Charities, the report says, can use human rights as a powerful tool to persuade public bodies to make the necessary changes to protect people when unfairly treated.
The IPPR suggested that voluntary groups should be able to use the Act’s right to private and family life sections to improve housing conditions and improve the poor services.
The think tank is using the research to suggest areas of inquiry for the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights, which is due to begin work in 2007.
It argued that the commission should have the dual role of supporting the voluntary and community sector in campaigning for human rights while acting as a watchdog for legal compliance.
"The Human Rights Act has had a bad press. It's often blamed for preventing justice rather than promoting it," said research fellow Frances Butler.
"It's also hardly known that the Act can be applied outside the court room to help vulnerable and socially excluded people. In fact, the Human Rights Act does have an important, positive role to play.
"Voluntary organisations are well placed to seek changes from public authorities on behalf of vulnerable people without necessarily having to go to court.
"Human rights principles like dignity and respect should guide the way in which public bodies provide services without the need to consult lawyers."