An Extensive Overview Of The Amendments To The Penal Code Of UAE

The launch of the New Penal Code is a component of the largest legislative reform drive in the nation’s 50-year history, which has already seen over 40 laws altered. The UAE’s desire to consistently improve its legal system and adapt to changing economic and social needs is demonstrated by such a comprehensive makeover in such a short period of time. The New Penal Code is yet another progress in bringing the UAE into line with global best practices. In November 2021, as part of the United Arab Emirates’ golden jubilee, the UAE government announced more than forty laws, out of which some are new, while others are updated versions of the existing legislation, which together represent the largest reform in the young nation’s 50-year history. The amendments are aligned with the ambitions of the country to become the leading business hub and also to establish a well-diversified economy. These legal amendments included the enactment of a new Federal Crime and Punishment Act (the Penal Code) that entered into force in January 2022. This new law (Federal Decree Law Number 31 of 2021) replaced the previous one, which dates back to 1987 (Federal Law Number 3 of 1987). Apart from the Penal Code, the UAE has introduced major practical changes in the other Federal Laws of the country as well. As per the government’s sources, the main idea behind these amendments was to bring forth “enhanced protection for women and domestic workers, strengthen public safety and security provisions and ease restrictions on extramarital relations”. This article will shed light on the latest amendments made in the Penal Code including other major Federal Laws along with the necessity for bringing these changes and their overall impact on the country and we hope it becomes beneficial to all personnel concerned with the law. 


The Necessity Of Bringing The Amendments To The Law

The legislative amendments that came during the “Year of the 50” are designed to make the Penal Code consistent with other recent federal legislation and current federal enforcement policies and to pave the way for a new and modern era for the country, one that proves its attractiveness to global investors and innovators. Additionally, the UAE wants to reform its legal system to keep a competitive edge as conservative Gulf neighbor Saudi Arabia opens itself up to foreign investment and talent.  The purpose of these amendments was intended to keep pace with the development achievements of the UAE and reflect the country’s future aspirations and bring reforms to the country’s legal system, which strives to increase social stability, security and the protection of people’s rights as well as strengthen economic, investment and commercial opportunities. Thus, these amendments aim to develop the legislative structure in various sectors, including investment, trade and industry, as well as a commercial company, regulation and protection of industrial property, copyright, trademarks, commercial register, electronic transactions, trust services, factoring, and residency, in addition to laws related to society and personal security including the Online Security Law, the Crime and Punishment Law, and laws regulating the manufacturing, distribution and use of narcotics and psychotropic substances.

Furthermore, UAE is home to a multitude of ex-pat populations where foreigners outnumber locals of almost ninety per cent of the total population, and inculcating the same, the new laws also strive to make the region more accommodating and expat-friendly. The new reforms are a positive step that will undoubtedly encourage more foreign direct investment in the country and accelerate economic growth.  


The Latest Amendments To The UAE Penal Code

For the past few decades, UAE has been known for harsh legal punishments as we’ve been hearing things such as foreign couples being jailed for a kiss in public, where business people have faced prison for bounced cheques and citizens have been facing restrictions on free speech. However, with the new changes, UAE has revised some of its laws, putting forth major changes mentioned below:


Decriminalization Of Consensual Relationships Outside Marriage

The new law decriminalizes consensual relationships outside marriage whereas previously, living with an unmarried partner was punishable by one year in prison. The latest UAE Penal Law introduces a new provision for unmarried parenting and provides an express acknowledgement of the status of a child conceived out of wedlock. It states that anyone who has sexual intercourse with a woman over the age of 18, resulting in the birth of a child, faces a minimum of two years in jail. However, the pair will not face criminal charges if they marry, or jointly or separately acknowledge parenthood of the infant, and issue the baby’s official documents and passport in accordance with the regulations of the country of which either is a national and are in conformity with UAE’s laws. Thus, as per the new law, failing to acknowledge a child born out of wedlock is considered a punishable crime under the new law.


Extra-Marital Consensual Intercourse

A married person committing consensual extra-marital intercourse is punishable by imprisonment for a period of no less than 6 months. However, only on the basis of the complaint raised by the husband or the guardian, can a criminal case be instituted against such offender. It is pertinent to note here that in all cases, the husband or guardian shall have the right to waive off such a complaint.


Rape And Assault

Under the new law, the rape of a woman is now charged with a life sentence. The punishment rises to capital punishment if 

  1. the victim was less than 18 years of age; or 
  2. was not conscious; or 
  3. the victim is crippled or in a state unable to resist; or 
  4. the offender/attacker is a family member or caretaker of the victim, or an employer with an authority over a woman or domestic helper. 

Thus, these four conditions will earn the offender the death penalty which did not exist under the previous law. Moreover, the new law increases the juvenile age limit from 14 years of age to 18 years old. As a result, victims of rape and sexual harassment or sex with consent under the age of 18 are termed minors. The new law also addresses the crime of indecent assault with a jail sentence or a fine of no less than 10,000 dirhams irrespective of the gender of the victim. If in the course of the crime, the use of force or threat is employed by the offender, the penalty can be a sentence for a period between five and twenty years. If the victim is younger than 18 or crippled or otherwise rendered unable to resist, the penalty increases to a prison term of at least ten years and a maximum of 25 years. 


Alcohol Consumption

Alcohol consumption is now permitted in authorized areas without an alcohol license being required. However, it is to be noted that under the new law there is still a prohibition on the consumption of alcohol beverages in a public space or in unlicensed locations. Furthermore, the law also prohibits the sale, provision, incitement or inducement to consume alcoholic beverages by any individual below the age of 21 years.



One of the new and most important  provisions introduced by the Crime and Punishment Law relates to premeditated murder and is applied to anyone who commits or participates in a premeditated murder that occurs against a citizen of the UAE, even if such a crime takes place outside the UAE. In addition, the UAE has revoked laws that allowed judges to issue merciful sentences for honour crimes. Honour killings will now be evaluated in the same manner as murder cases. 


UAE Data Protection Law

The Data Protection Law, another significant reform, creates a framework to ensure confidentiality and to protect the privacy of individuals (i.e. data subjects) by requiring organisations that fall within the scope of the Data Protection Law to implement appropriate governance for the management and protection of personal data, whether within the UAE or outside it. New legislative changes prohibit the processing of any personal data without the owner’s permission. The only exceptions to this rule are where data processing is required to safeguard the public interest or when the data has been made publicly accessible through the action of the data owner. The execution of legal rights and procedures is another exception. 


UAE Commercial Transaction Law

The new amendments made to the UAE Commercial Transaction Law bring in narrowed criminality in matters concerning cheques. Pursuant to the new changes, only the following actions will invite criminal action, such as: intention fabrication of cheques; Instances of fraud; Providing counterfeit cheques; Withdrawing the money from the account before the date the cheque is due to be cashed to prevent it from clearing. Partial payment on the cheque is now mandatory. If the amount available for payment is less than the value of a particular cheque, then the drawee bank is compelled to pay the amount partially.


UAE Commercial Companies Law

 The Federal Law Number 2 of 2015 and its amendments which are the most significant changes made to the UAE Companies Laws, now allows investors and entrepreneurs 100% foreign ownership limited to commercial and industrial activities aiming to increase foreign direct investment and reaffirms the UAE’s standing as a leading business hub regionally and globally, with the exception of a number of reserved “strategic activities”.  This is a landmark change compared to the previous position which required every business established outside the freezone to have a majority ownership by a UAE national. The new law specifies administrative fines imposed on those considered to have violated its provisions and further clarifies the duties of the board of directors and executive management.  


A Comparative Study Of The Criminal Procedures In Uae And Other GCC

The legal systems of the nations that comprise the Gulf Cooperation Council; Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have undergone dramatic, radical and progressive change and development with regard to the criminal procedures and its penalties in the past few decades, which is continuing. The changes have generally reduced the risk and unpredictability and increased more conventional legal protections, which has been very advantageous for foreign investors and businessmen. Comparing penalties for drug-related crimes in some of the Gulf countries as below: 

The penalties, in Oman, for possessing, using, or trafficking illegal drugs are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long time imprisonment and heavy fines. Similarly, penalties for the import, manufacture, possession, and consumption of alcohol or illegal drugs in Saudi Arabia are severe where convicted offenders may expect long sentences, heavy fines, public floggings, and/or deportation. In Saudi Arabia, the punishment for drug trafficking is death, and the official Saudis are no exception to this. In Bahrain, the penalties for possessing, using and trafficking illegal drugs in Bahrain are extreme where convicted persons may be imprisoned for long sentences and expect hefty fines. 



When it comes to how effectively these new laws will be implemented in the country; it may be years before we find out the outcome of these laws. In a country that remains a monarchy and has been ruled by some stringent laws and regulations since the time of its existence, it would be interesting to see how these amendments will shape the economic and cultural norms of the country and pave the way for the new and modern era to align with international standards and to progress at the same rate as UAE’s developments and reflect the country’s future aspirations. Get in touch with the best law firm in UAE to know more about legal amendments.