Dubai judges cite new law as drug offender escapes deportation

Suspect found with 28 grams of hash escapes with Dh5,000 fine as appeal judges overturn court order

Judges nationwide now have much greater discretion when sentencing, particularly in drug cases. Photo: The National

A man convicted of drug possession had his deportation order overturned after application of the UAE's newly amended drug laws.

The Uzbek, 40, will be allowed to stay in the country after what is believed to be the first judgment since a recent legal reform.

A change in the law removes mandatory deportation for drug offenders and, from January 2, 2022, gives judges greater sentencing discretion. Although the law is not yet in effect, judges said the convicted man could benefit from it.

In its written verdict on December 7, Dubai Appeal Court said: “In the area of punishment assessment, the court cancels the measure of deportation imposed against the accused, considering that doing so is permissible in accordance with article 75 of the anti-drug law issued on 16 September 2021 as being the law that is more advantageous for the accused."

The man, who worked for a security company, was arrested on September 22, 2021 after a police tip that he had drugs in his possession.

A search of his car found 28 grams of hashish, a type of cannabis. A search of his home in Sharjah found no further drugs but a blood test confirmed he had the drug in his bloodstream.

After a hearing he was convicted by a judge at Dubai Misdemeanours Court on November 18.

The Uzbek man initially received a Dh5,000 fine and an order that he be removed from the country.

First-time drug offenders once faced a four-year minimum sentence but that has since been reduced to two years, then recently to just three months for the first offence as a result of the reforms. The convicted man was not given any jail time as misdemeanours court judges already had the power to let off minor offenders with a fine and deportation.

In an appeal, his lawyer Mohammad Al Redha argued that the new 2022 law, which was published in the government's Official Gazette in September, should be taken into account.

“My client has been living in the country for 20 years and has no criminal record. He is the only provider for his family and deporting him will ruin his life,” Mr Al Redha said. His client, the lawyer said, had kept his job despite the conviction.

“As per article 13/1 of the federal penal code which stipulates that if a law that is more suitable was issued after the crime happened but before a final ruling in it was issued, the more suitable law should be applied."

The recent amendments to the Federal Crime and Punishment Law are part of a major legal overhaul carried out in the past two years.

Other significant changes mean that carrying food, drinks or any other products that contain marijuana, hashish or THC, found in cannabis, will no longer be a criminal offence.

Instead, such items will be confiscated and destroyed. Police and customs said they have often caught airline passengers with CBD oil vaping devices who are unaware of the penalties in the Gulf.

The new law allows the matter to be quickly dealt with without the need for court proceedings and mandatory prison terms. The penalties for smuggling larger quantities of any prohibited drug, above the threshold for personal consumption, remain severe.

Recent legal changes at a glance

Updated: December 15th 2021, 1:22 PM