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UAE Introduces changes to criminal, civil codes and inheritance law


8 Nov 2020

This weekend a surprise announcement came as the UAE proclaimed various legal reforms in the Emirates. Major overhauls of personal, family and inheritance law are introduced with immediate effect according to various news publications.

More than 200 nationalities are home in the UAE and more flexibility in the family and personal law is a welcome amendment to accommodate the growing international community.

The key takeaways from the publications so far are:

Protection of women:
“Honor crimes” are abolished, circumstances in which a male relative would receive a lighter sentence for assault of a female relative.

Harsher punishment against the harassment of women regardless of the severity of the harassment.
Punishment of the rape of a minor, or a person with limited mental capacity, has been extended.

Alcohol decriminalization:
Previously a license was required to buy, sell, possess and consume alcohol in the UAE, even within licensed hotels, and could result in arrest for failure to produce license upon request (although this was rarely enforced). The new rules will further allow Muslims, previously barred from obtaining an alcohol license, to freely consume and possess liquor in the Emirates.

Suicide decriminalization:
Attempted suicide was previously treated as a crime and suicide attempts often resulted in imprisonment or a fine in the UAE. In addition, assisting or administering CPR to a person could previously result in criminal prosecution.

Cohabitation decriminalized:
Unmarried couples and persons of the opposite sex were previously not allowed to cohabitate unless they were related or had a valid marriage certificate.

Wills and inheritance:
Previously Sharia law was by default applied against the estate of a deceased UAE resident. The reforms announced state that the law of their home country shall now be applied to all but their UAE assets.

Divorce and separation:
Previously Sharia law was by default applied to a divorce application, or separation order and often caused complications in respect of the custody and care of the children of the marriage. The country of origin of the residents will now be applied.

The above reforms represent tremendous progress in line with the UAE’s aim of boosting the country’s economic and social standing internationally and consolidating the UAE’s principals of tolerance. That being said, there remain a multitude of questions as to the implications of this surprise announcement and how various incidental items will be treated.

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This article is based on publicly available information and given for informational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice or as a comprehensive analysis of the matters referred to herein.

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