Couple charged in Sharjah acquitted after legal reform

Recent changes to UAE law allowed for the judgment

A man and a woman convicted of having sex outside of wedlock by a Sharjah court successfully appealed the verdict, in an important ruling for the UAE's legal system.

The pair, both from Palestine, were arrested by police in the emirate in October.

They were sentenced to six months in prison, to be followed by deportation, by Sharjah Criminal Court on November 2.

Just days later, however, the Emirates overhauled many of its laws, including those that relate to divorce and separation, how wills and assets are divided, alcohol, suicide the protection of women and consensual sex.

The sweeping changes included the removal of an article of the penal code that considered consensual sexual relationships outside of marriage a crime.

Their Emirati lawyer, Salem bin Sahoo, successfully argued in court that the pair could no longer be deemed to have committed an offence punishable under UAE law.

On January 10, Sharjah's appeal court acquitted both defendants on this basis.

"Since the charge against the defendants has been amended... and based on the facts of the case and the investigations carried out in it, and working according to the law that is best for the defendants, we overturn the initial verdict and hereby clear the defendants from the charge against them," read the case verdict, obtained by the National.

The amended laws also allow for the legal cohabitation of unmarried couples. It was previously illegal for an unmarried couple, or even unrelated flatmates, to share a home in the Emirates.

In recent years, the authorities have rarely targeted or prosecuted anyone found in breach of this. But it will ensure people feel they are on the right side of the law when they move to the country.

Ghassan El Daye, partner and head of litigation Middle East with the UK-based law firm Charles Russell Speechlys (CRS), said lawmakers had sought to reflect the views of modern society in implementing the changes.

“Legislators are always observing and assessing rapid changes locally and globally in order to introduce new laws or change existing ones that would boost the efforts put into creating a more open and transparent environment for all members of the community, especially given that the UAE is home to more than 200 nationalities,” said Mr El Daye.

“Once a law change has been made and is effective, a court of law is obliged to follow the new rule and issue its verdicts based in it.”

UAE brings in major legal reforms:

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