Reforms to the UAE’s legal system in November last year increase the country's appeal as a place to live, work and invest, a senior Emirati judge said.
Changes to personal and civil laws last year involved divorce, assault, harassment, jointly-owned assets, and bounced cheques.
Many of the measures had been discussed in the UAE for some time and were hailed last year as milestones in the country’s continued judicial progress.
Prosecutions for unmarried couples living together and for drinking alcohol without a licence were already rare, but last year's changes removed any uncertainty for residents and tourists alike.
“Any amendments to the legal system must serve a goal and, in this case, they served the country’s pursuit of innovation and attracting investments and talents,” said Ahmed Ibrahim Saif, senior judge at the Dubai Civil Court and former chief justice of Dubai's Criminal Courts.
“They have also led to increasing residents’ sense of security, which is another goal that reflects the UAE’s efforts to promote tolerance and coexistence.”
Mr Saif said changes to the law governing marital disputes were not at odds with Islam.
“We have residents following different faiths, and Islam does not prohibit them from resorting to the rules of their religions," he said.
The overhaul was an example of the UAE's commitment to reforms that would better serve justice, preserve families, and expedite progress that would make UAE safer for all, he said.
“Looking at recent surveys, we see that so many people made the UAE their first choice to live and invest,” he said.
Changes that allow people to settle disputes over family-owned assets in courts have solved a big problem, said Hassan Elhais, a legal consultant from Al Rowaad Advocates.
“Owners of family businesses were not allowed to sell their share of the business to anyone except to one of the owners themselves,” Dr Elhais said.
“I have seen numerous cases filed because of this sort of dispute. But following the amendments which gave courts authority to allow selling outside the family, cases about this type of dispute disappeared.”
More changes expected
Judge Ayman Abdul Hakam, former head of Dubai’s One Day Court, predicted more changes to UAE laws.
“These significant changes made by the government complement the rapid progress of the country that is home for 200 nationalities,” he said.
“I expect more changes in the near future, because laws must keep pace with the developments UAE is constantly achieving – a necessity the country’s government is aware of.”
Despite leaving Dubai last year to serve as chief justice of Giza Criminal Court in Egypt, Judge Abdul Hakam is certain that there are fewer files on judges' desks as a result of the amendments.
“A significant drop in the number of cases heard by judges happened when bouncing cheques cases were handled by prosecutors,” he said.
“And now with these recent changes, the number must haven even fallen further.”
He also stressed the importance of translators being present for defendants.
“Amendments made it mandatory [that] translators are present during police questioning, which is a first in the region,” he said.
“Other changes concerning cohabitation and drinking alcohol gave people more personal freedom, as long as they cause no harm to anyone.”