UAE enacts largest legal reform in its 50-year history

Major changes include stronger safeguards for women and domestic workers along with robust action to tackle fake news

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President Sheikh Khalifa has formally approved the most extensive legal reforms in the country’s history.

Major changes include greater protection of personal data, stronger copyright rules and tackling fake news.

More than 40 laws are included. Some are new, while others are updated versions of existing legislation.

The updated Federal Crime and Punishment Law, for example, strengthens protection for women and domestic workers.

The law also effectively decriminalises consensual relationships outside of marriage and provides that any child conceived as a result of the relationship is acknowledged and will be cared for. This comes into effect on January 2, 2022.

Legislation covering the spreading of rumours and fake news, electronic fraud and protecting personal data has also been put into place.

Investors and entrepreneurs will be allowed to establish and fully own onshore companies in almost all sectors, with the exception of activities deemed to be “strategic”.

The changes are the result of efforts by 540 experts from 50 federal and local authorities who worked with more than 100 private-sector organisations for the past five months, Wam said.

Here are some of the new laws in the UAE's largest legal reform

Here are some of the new laws in the UAE's largest legal reform

Electronic transactions and trust services

The amendment to this law gives digital signatures the same weight as handwritten ones, removing the need for witnesses to seal transactions.

It will simplify a wide variety of civil processes such as marriage and commercial transactions such as renting, buying and selling property.

Copyright and neighbouring rights

This legislation has been strengthened to offer greater protection to people working within creative sectors. It offers special benefits for people of determination to enhance their benefit and participation in creative fields.

The law covers all major issues relating to authors’ rights and neighbouring rights, including the right to protest against alteration of the work if the alteration distorts the author’s intent.

Crime and punishment

The existing federal crime and punishment law has been updated and new legislation has been ratified.

As of January 2, 2022, women and domestic workers will receive greater protection, public safety and security has been strengthened and restrictions on extramarital relationships eased.

New criminal penalties have been brought in for public disorder offences. The new law also prohibits the consumption of alcohol in a public place or in unlicensed locations. It also prohibits the sale, provision or incitement or inducement to consume alcohol to any person below 21 years of age.

The new law effectively decriminalises consensual relationships out of marriage and provides that any child conceived as a result of the relationship is acknowledged and will be cared for.

However, any couple conceiving a child outside of marriage will be required to marry or singly or jointly acknowledge the child and provide identification papers and travel documents in accordance with the laws of the country of which either is a citizen. Failure to comply could lead to prison terms.

One of the most important provisions is that the law be applied to anyone who commits, or participates in, a premeditated murder that occurs against a citizen of the UAE even if the crime takes place outside the country.

The new law stipulates life imprisonment for rapists. If the victim is under the age of 18, disabled or otherwise rendered in a condition unable to offer resistance, the sentence can be extended to capital punishment.

This law also covers indecent assault of both sexes, which will be punished with imprisonment or a fine of no less than Dh10,000, regardless of the victim’s sex. If the use of force or threat is employed in the course of the crime, the penalty will be a jail term of between five and 20 years.

If the victim is aged under 18, disabled or otherwise rendered in a condition unable to offer resistance, the prison term will be no shorter than 10 years. This more severe penalty will also apply in cases that occur within a place of work, study, shelter or care.

Wam also reported the law also "punishes with imprisonment for a period of no less than six months, consensual extra-marital intercourse with a person aged over 18 years, noting that a criminal case for this crime is only instituted on the basis of a complaint from the husband or guardian".

"In all cases, the husband or guardian has the right to waive the complaint, and the waiver entails the expiration of the criminal case or the suspension of the execution of the penalty, as the case may be," Wam reported.


Amendments offer protection to three-dimensional trademarks, holograms, sound trademarks such as musical tones associated with a company or by which its products are distinguished, and smell trademarks, such as a distinctive scent made for a company or brand.

Other changes enable geographical names to be included in trademarks in instances in which a product has a strong association with a particular place. It is intended to strengthen the UAE's ability to promote products for which it is well known, such as dates.

Trade licences are no longer needed by people wishing to register a trademark. Small and medium enterprises have been granted temporary protection of trademarks during participation in exhibitions.

Higher education

This law aims to regulate the licensing of higher education institutions in the UAE. It sets the legislative framework to approve curriculums, ensure effective governance and management of higher education institutions, improve the quality and competitiveness of higher education and encourage scientific research.

Provisions of the law apply to all higher education institutions in the country, with the exception of those operating in free zones. The law covers all qualifications offered in higher education, including diplomas, higher and postgraduate diplomas, and bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.

Data protection

The Personal Data Protection Law constitutes an integrated framework to ensure the confidentiality of information and protect privacy by providing proper governance for optimal data management and protection, in addition to defining the rights and duties of all concerned parties.

The provisions of the law apply to the processing of personal data, whether all or part of it through electronic systems, inside or outside the country.

The law prohibits the processing of personal data without the consent of its owner. Exceptions apply in cases in which the processing is necessary to protect the public interest, or in which the processing is related to personal data that has become available and known to all by an act of the data owner, or when the processing is necessary to carry out legal procedures and rights.

The law defines the controls for the processing of personal data and the general obligations of companies that have personal data. It defines their obligations to secure personal data and to keep it private.

It also defines the rights and cases in which the owner has the right to request a correction of inaccurate personal data, or restrict or stop the processing of personal data. The law sets out the requirements for the cross-border transfer and sharing of personal data for processing purposes.

Online security

A law covering crimes committed online, including bullying, harassment and the dissemination of fake news, will come into effect on January 2, 2022. It is one of the first comprehensive legal frameworks in the region to address concerns arising as online technology advances.

The law aims to enhance community protection from online crimes committed through the use of networks and information technology platforms, protecting public sector websites and databases, combat the spread of rumors and “fake news”, offer protect internet users from electronic fraud and preserve personal privacy and rights.

It addresses online false advertising or promotions, including unlicensed trade of cryptocurrencies and medical products.

The law contains provisions related to fake news and misleading information, using online tools, networks and platforms to broadcast, publish, republish, circulate or recirculate fake news, including false and misleading information, false reports purporting to originate from official sources or that falsely misrepresent official announcements.

It gives courts powers to confiscate devices, software, content or other means used in the pursuit of a crime, in addition to the deletion of such information.

UAE Data Office

The law establishing the UAE Data Office aims at ensuring the full protection of personal data.

The office, which will be affiliated with the Cabinet, is responsible for a wide variety of tasks that include proposing and preparing policies and legislations related to data protection, proposing and approving the standards for monitoring the application of federal legislation regulating this field, preparing and approving systems for complaints and grievances, and issuing the necessary guidelines and instructions for the introduction of data protection legislation.

Factoring and transfer of civil accounts receivable

The law is the first federal regulation in the UAE dealing specifically with factoring and the assignment of receivables. It provides a new regulatory framework which sets out the legal requirements for assignments and transfers of receivables, validity and perfection.

Commercial companies

The law allows investors and entrepreneurs to establish and fully own onshore companies in all sectors, excluding a small number of reserved “strategic activities”.

The new Commercial Companies Law aims to increase foreign direct investment and reaffirms the UAE’s standing as a leading business hub regionally and globally.

Industrial property rights

The law aims to protect industrial property and regulate procedures for its registration, use and assignment. It is dedicated to patents, industrial designs, integrated circuits, non-disclosure agreements and utility certificates. It applies throughout the UAE, free zones included.

Commercial register

The commercial register law has been amended to allow local authorities in each emirate to retain the right to establish and manage their commercial records, including those covering registration, data monitoring and change.

Updated: November 28, 2021, 4:42 PM