Permanent drugs court could relieve the strain on system

Review comes amid recruitment drive by Dubai Criminal Court.

DUBAI // The emirate's judiciary is considering making its temporary drugs court a permanent fixture. The court was originally created to "speed up the adjudication of cases during the summer", said Chief Justice Ahmed Saif of the Dubai Criminal Court.  However, an increase in cases across the criminal court system meant its role could now be expanded. "I believe the permanent introduction of this court will help relieve the strain on other criminal court circuits and our review is under way," he said.

The review is part of a recruitment and expansion drive by the Dubai Criminal Court, which plans an increase in the number of misdemeanour court circuits from seven to 10 and criminal court circuits from three to four by 2011. Chief Justice Saif said the drive included the recruitment of 14 new Arab judges from Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Sudan and eight Emirati judges, including two women. The Dubai Court employs one female judge, Eman al Bedwawi, who has served since March 2009. "We are pushing for more women to enter the judicial sector as per the guidance of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum," said Chief Justice Saif.

The drugs court has a conviction rate of 95 per cent, according to the chief prosecutor Waleed al Fuqai. Last week, it handled 37 cases in which 46 defendants were charged with crimes mainly related to the consumption and possession of marijuana and opiates. Thirteen defendants received judgments in 12 cases; all were sentenced to four-year prison terms. Yesterday the court sentenced 21 defendants in 15 cases to sentences varying from four to five years in prison. An additional 10 cases were heard, with 12 defendants, but these cases were adjourned for judgment.

The defendants included three police officers charged with consuming and possessing drugs, an Omani lawyer and two young Emirati cousins charged with consuming hashish. According to Chief Justice Saif, Dubai Criminal Court will also review whether the current panel of judges headed by Adil Ahmed Abdel Rahim and presided over by Omar Karmastagy and Salem al Qaidi would continue.  "These judges are very experienced and have worked in different judicial sectors within the courts," he said.

Judge Omar Karmastagy presides over the Family Court and the Juvenile Court, according to the Chief Justice.   Drugs cases are among the most frequently heard criminal cases in Dubai courts. Court sources said that only cases involving bounced cheques were more common. Penalties for drug offences range from a one-year sentence for consumption to the death sentence for dealing in large quantities.