An Overview on misdemeanor punishment in the UAE

Criminal Law is a branch of Law that governs the crime and offenses committed by individuals and citizens of a particular state against that state’s norms. Criminal Law’s primary purpose is to establish a borderline of what is acceptable and what is unacceptable to society and state. Hence, Criminal Law can be explained as the rules that differentiate between the conduct and behavior that is allowed and tolerable and the conduct that endangers, harms, and threatens people.

Criminal Law also sets down the penalties associated with the commission of various crimes and offenses. Every country formulates its own set of criminal rules. Similarly, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) also developed its own set of Criminal Law as per Federal Law No. (3) of 1987, Promulgating the Penal Code.

Division of Crime under UAE Law:

According to this Code, Criminal law cases can be divided into three categories.

  1. Misdemeanor,
  2. Felony,
  3. Juvenile crimes
  4. Lastly Capital Crimes, with each type dictating different punishments.

As per its legal definition, misdemeanor means an act or omission which is considered to be wrong and acceptable according to the societal norms of the world. A misdemeanor can be understood as an act of crime that is non-serious and carries less punishment compared to the other criminal activities. Generally, misdemeanors are punished with monetary fines and community service or imprisonment of not more than three years. Petty crimes and minor offenses amount to a misdemeanor—for example, petty theft, little consumption of alcohol, traffic violation, etc. Whereas Felony is a significant offense or a crime committed against the state or an individual which are punishable by a monetary fine and imprisonment of more than one year or both. For example, robbery, treason, drug handling, smuggling, etc. Moreover, Juvenile Crimes are crimes and offenses that involve minors. In these cases, more leniency is observed depending on the education and age of the child. The penalty for minor crimes is generally detention ranging from twenty-four hours to ten days maximum. Lastly, Capital Crimes are the gravest form of crimes and are also punished in the same way. Mostly all capital crimes are offered imprisonment of a lifetime or death, and the punishment ranges from three years to life imprisonment. Examples of Capital crimes are murder, homicide, and rape, etc. Further, the misdemeanor Court of First Instance is presided over by a single judge, while the felony court is presided by at least three judges.

Misdemeanor punishment in the UAE:

According to Article 29 of the Federal Law No. (3) of 1987 Promulgating the Penal Code, “A misdemeanor is a crime punishable by one or more of the following penalties:

  1. Imprisonment.
  2. A fine exceeding one thousand Dirhams.
  3. Blood money.
  4. Whipping in punishment for drunkenness and defamation.”

Moreover, Article 36 of the same Penal Code states that “The law shall determine those misdemeanors an attempt to commit which is punishable, as well as the penalty for such attempts.” The UAE has been famous for its harsh and strict laws and punishments. An Emirati Lawyer states that most crimes that have been mentioned in the Penal Code give the judges limits- a maximum limit and a minimum limit regarding the punishment of a particular crime. For example, if someone’s car is stolen, the article relating to stealing will apply, mentioned in the Penal Code having punishment of one to two years. Now it’s up to the judge to decide considering all the circumstances and other factors involved whether one year or one and a half year or two years. It is interesting to note the UAE is progressing with time, especially when it comes to imparting speedy solutions and fast-track justice.

In this regard, Essam Eisa Al Humaidan, Dubai’s Attorney-General, issued decision No. 88 of 2017, which states prosecutors of the Deira, Bur Dubai, and Family and Juvenile prosecution wings can start issuing criminal orders.

This was said in accordance with the new Dubai Law No. 1 of 2017, which also addressed that Public Prosecutors will have the power to issue “Criminal orders’ ‘ or judgments. These orders can be objected to within seven days from the date of passing and become binding if no objection is made to the relevant court. Article 2 of the Law mentioned above implies that misdemeanors will only be punished by a fine or fine and incarceration. The list of misdemeanors is limited in nature. It includes only the minor offenses like bounced cheques, failing to pay for food, car rent, or room rent, defamation and cursing, attempted suicide, and disturbing victims through the use of telecommunication systems.

The lawyers have welcomed this Law with open arms considering it to aid in lowering the burden of criminal cases on the formal courts and getting rid of the delays that the litigants face. For instance, millions of visitors, due to their lack of knowledge of the laws, get involved in misdemeanors. They enjoy their holidays but end up getting stuck for months for committing minor offenses or petty crimes. The above-mentioned Criminal order makes the procedures faster and easier as it reduces the waiting times for the litigants who are stuck by way of getting involved in misdemeanors. In case they are guilty, they are fined and not imprisoned in most of the issues. Again in 2020, a significant development took place with the establishment of one-day Courts for Misdemeanor. The court was established after the UAE Federal Judiciary approved misdemeanor courts to judge and hear particular minor cases in just one day based on the Code of Criminal Procedures.

The main objective of this step was to reduce the backlog of cases in the courts and expedite minor cases so as to make the criminal legal system more efficient. One-day misdemeanor court has been established in each federal judicial department with an aim to look into fifty (50) misdemeanor cases in an effective manner within a day. In addition to misdemeanors, the new courts may also look into crimes where penalties are abated under the accused’s objection and take care of the crimes where reconciliation is possible as per the Penal Code and any other case of misdemeanor the UAE Attorney-General refers to them. Evidently, criminal liability attached to a misdemeanor is less than what is attached to a felony. It is a less severe act of crime, but it is pertinent to note that even though a small crime is an acceptable act, individuals should refrain from performing it. The changes mentioned above and modifications made in recent years aid in fast-tracking and resolving minor cases that may not be justified by lengthy waiting times and proceedings.