The new legislation in the UAE (UAE sets out legal overhaul of personal and family law);
On social media, you can see all happy reactions to the new legislation in the UAE, and yesterday alone I have received 40 messages and tags from people wondering what the consequences are for their case. Hence this detailed explanation.
First of all, you have to realize that this is a new framework for legislation and that new laws have not yet been developed in all areas. There has also been some “clean-up” work, removing outdated legislation.
It is also common in the Netherlands to save up legislation that you want to get rid of, and then implement a change at once, which is more efficient.
What is concrete?
Living unmarried with someone of different sex with whom you are in a relationship is no longer punishable. This has not been actively enforced for years, but the punishment was indeed imposed in combination with other criminal offenses.
It is therefore not the case that homosexual relationships or homosexual acts are no longer punishable in the UAE, that sex in public places is suddenly allowed, and it is not the case that being unmarried pregnant no longer causes problems. The legislation on illegitimate children in the UAE is not changing (at least at the moment). If you are pregnant unmarried, you still have to get married when the weather is due or go back to your own country.
The legislation on the alcohol license.
The new legislation is federal law, which means that it will apply in all Emirates, including the stricter ones. The Emirates have been given room to make their own regulations because they can designate areas where alcohol can be consumed.
Drinking alcohol without a license for people over 21 in your own home is no longer punishable. You also no longer have to drive to pass Sharjah if you have alcohol in the trunk (unless Sharjah is now going to use its powers at lightning speed and designate all kinds of roads as an “alcohol-free area”.)
It is of course still punishable to participate in traffic with alcohol. And causing nuisance because you are drunk can still lead to you being arrested.
Hotels and bars still need a license if they want to serve alcohol.
The good samaritan legislation.
Again, the soup was never eaten as hot as served. A lot of people in the UAE think you shouldn’t help someone who is helpless in the street.
I have already written out the nuances on this page in an article (search for First Aid), and that legislation meant that you could be punished if you injure someone injudiciously while that person is helpless. So you’ve never given chest compressions before, see a bleeding person lying next to a car, and go on a rampage in such a way that the person who only had a head wound dies because his rib punctures a vital organ.
The fact that it is no longer a criminal offense to do this does not mean that the victim or his family cannot hold you liable, because that is a private procedure that will not change. So it is still wise to do a first aid course, and not to provide medical assistance without a medical background.
Also keep in mind that jail time is quite expensive, and in many cases it is a cheaper / more costly solution to fine someone.
The courts must appoint interpreters to assist witnesses and suspects who do not speak Arabic. This does not mean that you will be assigned an interpreter in divorce proceedings, as this is a private law procedure and the amendment only applies to criminal law. It also does not mean that the documents no longer need to be translated in legal proceedings.
New privacy legislation
New legislation will be introduced to better protect the privacy of suspects and convicts.
The suicide law
A failed suicide attempt could previously in theory lead to imprisonment, although it was never actually imposed.
It is still punishable to incite someone to commit suicide, to assist in suicide or to commit or perform euthanasia.
New harassment legislation
In practice, honor killers in the UAE were already severely punished, but there was still an old provision in the law that could reduce punishment for a man if he could prove that he wanted to keep the honor of his female victim. It has now been removed, and provisions from recent legislation to better protect women have been made somewhat more coherent.
The application of the law of your nationality in case of divorce
If you are going to get a divorce in the UAE as an expat, the Sharia law applies to the division of children and goods, but as long as you can work it out together as ex-partners, that is not a problem for anyone. If you submit a divorce settlement agreement together, there is not a single judge who secretly applies Sharia law, which will cause you strange surprises. You will then receive a stamp at the end of the divorce proceedings, the judge does not look at the contents, and from that moment you are divorced.
I have been “implementing” Dutch law in the UAE for years by agreeing with parents’ equal rights for father and mother when it comes to the children because that is better for the children. That is no problem at all in the UAE. But the new legislation does not say anything about the guardianship of the children, it only concerns the division of communal property, ie matrimonial property law.
The fact that you can choose Dutch law for the distribution can again lead to interesting new legal issues since Dutch law can declare UAE law applicable again.
And finally inheritance law
Many people think that it no longer makes sense to have an expat will be drawn up because “now the Dutch or Belgian (for Belgian readers) law is applicable in the UAE”. Of course, as always, it is a lot more nuanced.
Sharia law still applies to property in the UAE in the event of death. So, if you have bought a house, it still makes sense to bypass Sharia law by means of an expat will, even if you do not, or no longer, live in the UAE. For example, to protect your spouse, or because the division of Sharia law in your case is undesirable in some other way.
The amended legislation only applies to investors who are not residents in the UAE and who do not own real estate in the UAE and whose family is also not resident in the UAE.
Children can still end up in an orphanage after the death of one of their parents if an expat will is missing, and relatives from the Netherlands or Belgium still do not just receive the children when the parents die if there is no UAE will.
And I suspect that the Dubai courts will develop their own wills standard for expats where a choice of law can be made, very common in international succession law.
But in all cases, the implementation remains a problem of course. With more than 200 nationalities, and therefore more than 200 legal systems, you did not immediately give all judges in the UAE “even” extra training. It is therefore quite possible that some kind of international legal institution will be set up where judges can ask for advice.