On 7th November, Saturday, the United Arab Emirates made an announcement to slide a few legal reforms related to the personal freedom of its people. These reforms seek to redirect the country away from the hardline way the Islamic law is interpreted by the countrymen.
According to the reports by the state-run Emirates News Agency (WAM) and The National, the revised guidelines and reforms include certain deviations in laws related to the matters of alcohol restrictions, cohabitation of unmarried couples, honour killings, divorce and succession.
These new modern steps come into place at a perfect timing before the Expo 2020, one of the most popular and colossal events hosted by Dubai. The riming of reformation is crucial as this event is expected to bring in investments along with nearly 2.5 crore visitors to the country. The Expo was scheduled to be organized from the month of October in 2020 until April 2021, but owing to the health and social restrictions and limitations imposed by the coronavirus pandemic it has been postponed to October 2021-March 2022.
So, now the bigger question is what were these reforms and why was a need to improvise them in the first place?
Law 1: Honour killings and harassment of women
Before the ameliorations, under “honour crimes”, the males in the family could easily slip out or evade prosecutions or receive lighter sentences for the crimes involving assaulting women. These assaults were implemented under the reflection that these women brought “dishonour” to the family by carrying out certain activities such as not following the holy religious scriptures or showing sexual immorality or promiscuity.
As per The National, now, after the new laws, these incidents would be treated judicially in a way similar to any other assault.
It is also known that after these amendments, there would be more stringent punishments for men who subject women to harassment. Under the term harassment, stalking and street harassment are also included. The modernisations also reiterate a law passed that was passed last year that also recognised the fact that men could also be subjected to harassment or stalking as victims.
The report also said that execution will be practised when somebody is accused of raping of a minor or someone “with limited mental capacity”.
Law 2: Consumption of alcohol
Consumption of alcohol by the people above 21 years of age has been decriminalised. Moreover, now, there will be no penalties for selling or possessing alcoholic beverages in authorised areas even without an alcohol licence.
On top of it, Muslims, who were not allowed to obtain licences, would now be allowed to drink alcoholic beverages.
Before the amendments, the Gulf nation rarely saw prosecutions in relations with alcohol problems. However, a separate offence was underemployment when people drinking alcoholic beverages without a licence would get charged. But, the new reforms have changed this. Now, a person need not be charged for alcohol consumption except in cases of underage drinking, that is still punishable.
Law 3: Unmarried couples living together
It is for the very first time that living together or cohabitation of unmarried couples has been made legal in the country. Prior to the rectifications, an unmarried couple or even unrelated flatmates were not allowed to share a home as it was considered illegal in the United Arab Emirates. Even though people have been rarely prosecuted under this category of illegal laws, this step to decriminalise is meant to attract more people to move to the country.
Law 4: Divorce and succession
A major change has happened for the people who were married in their home country but have applied for a divorce in the Emirates. The revised laws saw that now the laws of the country where the marriage took place would apply in their case.
The topic of succession has been bitterly fought in many cases. Previously, local courts could apply the United Arab Emirate’s Sharia law for the purpose of distributing assets among family members, but now, the division of assets shall be determined in regards with the law of a person’s citizenship, unless there is a written will.
One thing to note is that even after this reorientation, any property purchased in the gulf country shall still be administered under the provisions of the Sharia law.
Law 5: Suicide and “Good Samaritans”
Before the reforms, a person who committed suicide or any act of self-killing shall be liable to prosecution. But now, the authorities have decriminalised suicide and attempted suicide. Moreover, after the removal of this offence, the courts and police are obliged to ensure the necessary resources to provide mental health support to vulnerable people.
However, assisting a person in his act of self-killing remains illegal and can bring prosecutors to one’s doorstep with an unspecified jail sentence.
The new law reads, as quoted by The National, “If you want to give help or assistance in an emergency and that person gets harmed [as a result] you will not be punished.” This is specifically states because any person who offered medical aid such as first aid or CPR to someone could be held accountable for the latter’s death or injury under the previous legislation. This provision has now been removed.
Law 6: Procedural reforms
Along with the strengthening of privacy laws, the reforms have mandated that any shreds of evidence related to any alleged indecent acts or offences cannot be publicly disclosed (in other words, they would have to be protected legally).
However, other offences in the UAE that have affected expatriates, such as homosexuality, public displays of affection and cross-dressing, have so far not been addressed. As the cherry on the cake, for defendants and witnesses who do not speak Arabic, the Courts have been mandated to provide legal translators.