Harsher penalties and up to Dh1 in fines make up sweeping reforms to UAE penal code

Fines of up to Dh1m and harsher penalties for some crimes, with mandatory deportation for convicted expatriates make up sweeping reforms to the penal code.

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ABU DHABI // Higher fines and harsher punishments for some crimes are among changes to the penal code that come into effect on Sunday.

And judges can no longer decide to allow expatriates found guilty of crimes to escape deportation at the end of their sentences, although that discretion remains for misdemeanours.

The new laws also allow deportation to be carried out immediately for some crimes.

“While it was optional, there were crimes for which we chose to issue deportation, such as murder, because it is dangerous to keep this person in society,” said Chief Justice Mustafa Abu El Naja, head of the Abu Dhabi Appeals Court.

“Also in cases of prostitutes, for instance, why hold her in jail, feed her and pay her costs for six months, instead of deporting her immediately?”

The maximum fine for people convicted of crimes has been raised to Dh1 million from Dh100,000, and to Dh300,000 from Dh30,000 for misdemeanours.

For companies or other agencies, it has risen to Dh500,000 from Dh50,000.

Legal advocate Yazan Al Rawashdeh said the steeper fines would be more effective deterrents.

“Lately there has been an increase in murder cases, especially those committed by locals and related to ‘honour’,” Mr Al Rawashdeh said. “I handled three such cases this year.”

“The offender thinks to himself, ‘I will spend a few years in prison and then get out or get released by a pardon’.”

The maximum penalty for undermining state security during times of war has been increased from 10 years to the death penalty.

“Usually a country decides to raise punishments for a certain crime due to the danger of this crime or because it is on the rise,” Chief Justice El Naja said.

“It does not necessarily have to be a dangerous crime but its increase could have dangerous results, especially with cases of state security.”

The new laws also changed the punishment of “obligation to work” to “community service”, and included it as one of five measures to which an offender can be sentenced.

They state that community service “could be issued for minor misdemeanours only, and in lieu to a jail sentence that does not exceed six months or a fine”.

And the old laws listed acts that could cause injury but were not considered crimes if they were committed in good faith or through the use of a legal right.

These included injuries from medical surgery, competitive martial arts fights or police apprehending a suspect who was resisting arrest.

Deleted from this list was “punishment by a husband of his wife and punishment by parents and custodians of minor children, within the limits prescribed by Sharia or by Law”.

Chief Justice El Naja said this law had caused complications because people’s understanding of the extent of domestic punishment differed between cultures.

Mr Al Rawashdeh said he did not agree with the removal of this clause “because it is already specified in Sharia how minor the punishment is and there were many limits, like it is not allowed to hit the face or cause any effect or scars”.

He said he expected to see an increase of assault cases filed by women and children.

“We already see many of these cases in court,” Mr Al Rawashdeh said. “When a wife is filing for divorce, she lists a push as a physical attack, just to come up with any excuse to get a divorce.”