Courts may swap marriage for penalty

Lawyers and judges are trying to move cases of sex outside of wedlock out of the courtroom.

Ali Al Qareiny, a lawyer at Al Mansour Advocates and Legal Consultancy. Photo courtesy  Al Mansour Advocates and Legal Consultancy
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ABU DHABI // Couples charged with having sex outside of wedlock would avoid trial by getting married in a plan being considered by the Abu Dhabi judiciary.

Under the proposal, the judge would ask a couple accused of having an intimate relationship if they wanted to be married.

The aim is to ease case loads in courts and reduce penalties.

Most cases arise when a man and woman are caught being intimate in public, said Ali Al Qareiny, a lawyer at Al Mansour Advocates and Legal Consultancy.

Mr Al Qareiny said that in some cases, the couple might have married secretly in an unregistered “urfi” marriage with no witnesses, or by signing a contract they had drawn up themselves.

These marriages are considered invalid.

“In such cases, there was an intention to be married, no matter the circumstances they were in and what prevented them from marrying legally,” Mr Al Qareiny said.

“So the judge orders them to get married at court to drop the charges. If any party refuses the marriage, they are penalised accordingly.”

Dr Rima Sabban, associate professor in the college of sustainability sciences and humanities at Zayed University’s Dubai campus, said marriage was a better answer than penalties.

“I see that some of these cases have a positive stance as it shows a type of legal protection to the women, protection from the society that will hold her accountable for her mistake,” Dr Sabban said.

“A man is given freedom because we live in a male-dominated society, and this hurts the woman more.

“It’s good that the judge is trying to reconcile them and trying to get them away from a scandal.”

Mr Al Qareiny said it was necessary that the court provided continuous guidance to the couple to ensure their marriage was stable and avoid issues that might arise, and to ensure the marriage was not a fraud. He said it was important to provide religious advice so the accused did not feel guilty or threatened by society.

Women charged with such offences can suffer damage to their reputation, especially in Arab countries, said Dr Ahmed Al Omosh, dean of sociology at the University of Sharjah.

“This will eliminate unnecessary labelling by the act that they have done and will prevent rumours,” Dr Al Omosh said.

Dr Sabban said the move would limit negative societal reactions.

“We live in a world where some Islamic societies are penalising them in a horrendous way,” she said.

“However, giving such solutions would reflect a more civilised version of Islam and would also minimise the criminalisation in the society at large, let alone protecting people from horrendous versions of Islamic penalties we hear about these days, like lashing and stoning.”