UAE overhauls laws on family, criminal issues


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Dubai - These changes to the personal and civil code will make it easier for expats to resolve disputes, and promote multiculturalism.


Marie Nammour

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Published: Mon 9 Nov 2020, 7:17 PM

Last updated: Mon 9 Nov 2020, 7:18 PM

The UAE has announced landmark reforms to the country’s personal and civil laws covering inheritance, women’s safety, suicide, Good Samaritans and alcohol consumption.

The President, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has issued a number of decrees to amend some provisions of the Federal Personal Status Law, the Federal Civil Transactions Law, the Federal Penal Code, and the Federal Criminal Procedure Law.

These changes to the personal and civil code will make it easier for expats to resolve disputes, and promote multiculturalism.

The decrees come within the framework of the UAE’s continuous endeavour to develop its legislative structure in line with the country’s commitment to the principle of tolerance and to boost its status as one of the world’s most attractive destinations socially and economically for foreign expertise and investment.

On expats’ wills and inheritance

The new law gives expats living in the UAE to use the laws of their home countries in dealing with affairs like inheritance. At the time of an expat’s death, wills and estates can be managed based on the Personal Status Law of his/her country of nationality. New changes to the Personal Status Code also mean that the laws of the country in which the marriage took place would be applied with regards to the marriage terms instead of the previous provisions which applied the laws of each spouse’s country of nationality.

On suicide

Suicide attempts and self-harm are usually punishable by law. Now, under the amendments to the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedures Law, acts that do not harm others and only cause self-harm is not considered criminal. People who are found to have harmed themselves shall be referred for mental health treatment.

On Good Samaritans

People, who tried to help others but have instead inflicted unintended harm, won’t be held accountable under the new modifications.

On honour killings

In affirmation of the state’s commitment to protecting women’s rights and strengthening the principle of the rule of law, the article that provides a mitigating excuse for so-called ‘honour crimes’ has been cancelled, whereby murder crimes are treated in accordance with the provisions in force in the penal code. Cases of honour killings will now be entirely subject to the penal code.

The landmark changes that the UAE has introduced to a number of its laws show how the country is keeping up with the times, an Emirati lawyer has said.

Existing laws and legal provisions do get amended when the need arises and this is not new in the UAE, Emirati lawyer Abdel Monem bin Suwaidan of Bin Suwaidan Firm for Advocates and Legal Counsels told Khaleej Times. “A simple example was the cybercrime law which was enacted as people started relying more on social media both in their personal and professional life,” he said.

Though exact details are yet to be officially available, Suwaidan observed that the new amendments have been anchored on a thorough study of cases.

Citing some of the changes introduced, he said: “For incidents of inflicting self-harm or suicide attempts, the legislator has now decriminalised it as it has been evaluated that people who usually commit such acts are not mentally sane.”

For the Personal Status Law, the general rule is to apply the UAE law, he explained. Now, if the parties concerned — whether they are foreigners or Arabs — ask for their country’s law to be implemented, it can be done, provided that they submit a copy of the law, certified by their embassy in UAE.

In Suwaidan’s view, an expat will most likely request the application of his home country’s law if he sees that it will be in his best interest. However, if the parties in the case do not object, then the UAE law shall be applicable, he said.

“For example, in some countries, we find that there are stiffened penalties or lenient punishment for crimes that happen at households — that is when a husband caught his wife or a father caught his daughter in the act of committing adultery. The legislation previously gave him (the perpetrator of the honour crime) the right to benefit from certain leniency when a crime or murder is carried out against his wife, sister or daughter and/or against the partner. In a sudden discovery of such acts, the legislator gave the defendant a circumstance of leniency because he was caught off guard and snapped and did not have time to reflect on the consequences.”

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