In all nations, laws are enforced by various governmental machineries, such as the police and courts through administration of the criminal justice system.
In the United Arab Emirates, the criminal law is governed by Federal Law 31 of 2021, commonly called the UAE Penal Code, which is the substantive law and Federal Law 35 of 1992 (Criminal Procedure Code), which is the procedural law. The Criminal Procedure Code controls the entire process beginning with the commission of offence till the conclusion of the judgment and even appeal.
Types of Crimes under the UAE Penal Code
The UAE Penal Code classifies crime as the following three types:
Infractions are minor acts or omissions which are in violation of law and are punishable by either detention of up to 10 days and fines of up to AED 10,000.
Misdemeanour is a crime which is punishable by one of more of the following penalties: a jail sentence, a fine exceeding AED 10,000 or blood money. Misdemeanours are comparatively less serious offences than felony and include petty theft, driving under the influence of alcohol, etc.
Felony, on the other hand, refers to serious crimes that are characterized by more stringent punishments, including death penalty, life imprisonment and temporary imprisonment. Offenses that fall under ‘felony’ include murder, rape, and drug trafficking.
The kind of crime is determined according to the type of penalty which is prescribed by law.
Steps in Enforcement of Criminal Law
The first step for commencing a criminal action is for the victim to file a verbal or written complaint to the police. Depending upon the type of offence, the police will refer the complaint to the concerned division of the police department, who will be responsible for investigating the particular offence.
Pursuant to the complaint, the police will record the statement of the parties. Once the investigation is completed, the complaint will be finalized and referred to a public prosecution for the next steps.
Public Prosecution Stage:
A public prosecutor is part of the judiciary, authorized to investigate crime and direct indictments in accordance with the provisions of the law. The investigation is to be carried out in Arabic and in case the accused, witness or one of the parties do not know the Arabic language, assistance of a translator may be permitted.
The public prosecutor often summons both the complainant and the accused and also provides them with the opportunity to bring witnesses on their behalf. Witnesses are required to specify their name, surname, age, nationality, residence, relation to the accused and the victim, amongst other things. The statements/ testimony of the witness is to be recorded in the minutes without any amendments, addition or deletion. The prosecutor must sign the testimony followed by the signature of the witnesses.
Actions Taken by the Public Prosecution
Pursuant to the investigation undertaken by the public prosecution, the public prosecution may decide not pursue the matter. However, in case the public prosecution deems that there is sufficient evidence against the accused in the matter, it shall refer the case to the criminal court. The referral should specify the charge imputed to the accused.
Criminal Court Stage:
The UAE criminal courts consist of the following courts at the Emirate level:
court of first instance;
court of appeals; and
The court of first instance composed of three judges have the jurisdiction to try felonies whereas the single judge bench will have jurisdiction to examine misdemeanours and petty offences. The jurisdiction is determined based on the place where the crime was committed.
The courts will then initiate the trial proceedings. The accused may either plead guilty or if he does not plead guilty, the accused will then have to respond to the charges. The court will hear the accused, the victim, the witnesses to the prosecution, and witnesses to the defense. Once the proceedings are completed, the judge may pronounce its verdict.
The accused and the public prosecution may appeal the judgment rendered by the criminal courts of first degree to the court of appeal within a period of 15 days. The judgment of the court of appeal may be further appealed to the cassation court within 30 days from the date of the judgment of the court of appeal, on specific grounds as set out in the Criminal Procedure Code.
While the criminal procedure may be intimidating, the courts in the UAE are efficient in administering justice. That said, given that the entire process is run in Arabic, it is crucial to hire local lawyers who are well versed in the local law and can provide sound legal advice based on the situation.