Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 5 December 2020

The UAE's latest legal overhaul reaffirms its open values

People of close to 200 nationalities live and work in the UAE. Jeffrey E Biteng for The National
People of close to 200 nationalities live and work in the UAE. Jeffrey E Biteng for The National

The UAE revealed a major overhaul of its penal and civil codes on Saturday, modernising a number of elements tied to family and personal law. The details of the laws and the amendments to existing regulations are important, but even more significant is the spirit in which this overhaul is taking place.

In having the law make accommodations for people from different walks of life and backgrounds, the UAE is again demonstrating its ability to attract millions of people from around the world to live and work here. Some of the issues that have been addressed by these laws, like divorce and inheritance, are important to families who are settling in the UAE and making it their home. This comes along with a number of changes earlier this year in regulations linked to residency and property laws. Put together, these measures are aimed at creating an environment that welcomes a diverse population, and make the UAE especially attractive in the competition to attract talent from around the world.

According to the new regulations, non-Emiratis can resort to the laws of their home countries in cases of inheritance, divorce, separation and the division of assets in the event a marriage breaks down.

Significant, compassionate steps have been taken, as suicide and attempted suicide will be decriminalised. Until now, someone who attempted to take their own life but survived could have been prosecuted, though such instances were rare if not unheard of. The law also now protects “Good Samaritans”, who intervene in situations where people are in need, from being held liable for the outcome of those they help. Under a long-standing but rarely used clause, someone who went to the aid of another person, to give CPR or other first aid, could be held accountable for their injury or death. The new law states that “any person who’s committing an act out of good intention, that may end up hurting that person, will not be punished”. Furthermore, all courts will have to ensure translators are provided for defendants and witnesses in court, if they do not speak Arabic, ensuring further protections for those who may be vulnerable.

For years, the UAE has been making important strides in women’s rights, and the regulations announced on Saturday include increased punishments when it comes to harassment. They also remove lighter sentences for those who commit so-called “honour crimes”. The new law is clear – there is no instance in which there is honour in killing.

Progress requires the ability to revise how a society is organised in order to reflect its needs, and this is what the UAE has committed to. The country strikes a fine balance between celebrating its heritage and Emirati culture, and opening its borders and cities to people from around the world. Finding the right balance is neither easy nor a one-off measure, but rather a process of constant review and seeking opportunities for improvement.

2020 has been a remarkable year in the UAE. From starting the Arab world’s first peaceful nuclear reactor, to sending the Arab world’s first space probe to Mars. The UAE has achieved all this while facing a global pandemic. The Emirates has proven once again that it can be true to its motto, “Impossible is possible”, by continuing to introduce historic measures, projects and a forward-thinking vision.

Updated: November 7, 2020 05:49 PM

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