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14 December, 2004

Charities are encouraged to use Human Rights Act

While celebrities like Catherine Zeta Jones have used the Human Rights Act, many ordinary and vulnerable citizens have missed out over the last four years, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr).

Research published on International Human Rights Day (10 December) shows that older people and residents of care homes are among those who could most benefit from the Act but who haven’t used it.

The research concludes that the voluntary sector can play a crucial role in helping the most vulnerable claim their human rights while avoiding the courts.

It explains how charities can use human rights as a powerful tool to persuade public bodies to make the necessary changes to protect people when they experience maltreatment and discrimination. Voluntary groups should be able to use the Act’s right to private and family life and the prohibition on degrading treatment to drive up standards in care homes, improve housing conditions and improve the poor services provided to many healthcare patients, disabled people and victims of crime.

ippr’s report also points the way for the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) which is due to begin work in 2007. It argues 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.

ippr Visiting Research Fellow, Frances Butler, said:

“The Human Rights Act has had a bad press. It’s often blamed for preventing justice rather than promoting it. 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.”

‘Human Rights: Who needs them?’ is available to order from www.ippr.org/publications or by calling Central Books on 0845 458 9910. Share

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