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Navigating Criminal Law in Dubai and the UAE

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Understanding Criminal Law in Dubai and the UAE: Types of Crimes, Punishments, and Penalties

Criminal law in Dubai and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) encompasses all offenses and crimes committed against the state. Its purpose is to establish clear boundaries between what is acceptable to the state and society and what is not.

Criminal law in the UAE draws heavily from Sharia law, which serves as the moral code and religious law of Islam. Sharia law addresses various matters, including liquor, gambling, sexuality, dress codes, crimes, marriage, and more. Importantly, courts in Dubai apply Sharia law universally, regardless of the nationality or religion of the parties involved. This means that foreigners and non-Muslims can be subject to Sharia law if they violate Dubai’s laws.

For residents, expatriates, and tourists, understanding the basics of criminal law in Dubai and the UAE is crucial. Ignorance of the law is not a valid excuse before the courts, and even seemingly harmless actions in other countries can lead to legal consequences in Dubai.

Criminal Cases and the Public Prosecution

In the UAE, criminal cases are overseen by the public prosecution department. This government authority is responsible for prosecuting individuals or companies accused of illegal activities. The Public Prosecution collaborates with the courts, law enforcement agencies, and other government bodies to investigate, prosecute, and try criminal suspects.

The process begins with the arrest of a suspect. The Public Prosecution collects evidence, including witness statements and forensic reports, which are presented in court during the trial. If the accused is found guilty, the Public Prosecution requests an appropriate punishment from the court, such as fines or imprisonment.

The Public Prosecution’s responsibilities encompass reviewing police reports to determine charges, representing the state during initial court appearances, preparing cases for trial, and negotiating plea bargains. They also participate in pre-trial motions, present the state’s case at trial, and recommend sentences after a guilty verdict. Additionally, they defend the original decision in case of appeals and participate in post-conviction proceedings like parole hearings, all aimed at upholding public safety, ensuring justice is served, and maintaining the rule of law.

Understanding Crime in the UAE

A Crime in the UAE refers to any illegal act that violates the country’s laws or regulations. These offenses can range from minor transgressions like littering to severe crimes such as murder and trafficking. The severity of the crime and the associated punishment depend on factors like the type of crime committed, the circumstances surrounding it, and the perpetrator’s intent.

The UAE’s laws prohibit specific actions and behaviors, and violators may face criminal prosecution and penalties, including capital punishment in certain cases.

Types of Crimes in the UAE

Crimes in the UAE can be categorized in various ways. Some common categories include:

  1. Personal Crimes: These cause physical or mental harm to others, e.g., assault, robbery, murder, rape, and kidnapping.
  2. Property Crimes: Crimes that involve interference with another person’s property, e.g., theft, burglary, arson, and embezzlement.
  3. Inchoate Crimes: These are attempted crimes, including attempted robbery or solicitation of a crime.
  4. Statutory Crimes: Crimes defined by legislative statutes, often involving deceit, such as fraud or embezzlement.
  5. Financial Crimes: Typically committed by professionals in business settings, these involve deceit and unlawful gain, e.g., fraud, bribery, insider trading, embezzlement, and identity theft.
  6. Crimes against Justice: Crimes that undermine the justice system, like perjury, obstruction of justice, bribery of witnesses, and jailbreak.
  7. Organized Crime: Crimes committed by structured groups, including drug trafficking, illegal gambling, and smuggling.

Each category can further divide into subcategories, and crime classification can vary based on various factors like the nature of the crime, its severity, intent, degree of completion, involvement of violence, impact on victims, and legal definitions specific to the jurisdiction.

Criminal Proceedings in Dubai

Criminal proceedings in Dubai, particularly for foreign expatriates, can be intricate. Language barriers and the influence of Islamic Sharia Law add to the complexity. Notably, anyone who breaks the UAE’s laws, regardless of their nationality, falls under its judicial system. Foreign governments or embassies cannot shield their citizens from the consequences of their actions but will strive to ensure fair treatment.

Filing a Criminal Complaint

Victims of crimes in Dubai should promptly file a criminal complaint against the offender with the local police. The complaint should detail the events, either in writing or orally (recorded in Arabic by the police), and be signed by the complainant. Complaints must be filed at the nearest police station to where the crime occurred.

Criminal Trials

Following the complaint, the police contact the accused, gather their statement, and conduct an investigation. They may also interview potential witnesses and review evidence. Once the investigation is complete, the case is referred to the public prosecution.

The public prosecution, a judicial authority, decides whether to pursue the case. Both the complainant and accused are interviewed, and witnesses may be called. If the case proceeds, it goes to the relevant criminal court.


Convicted individuals can face various penalties, including death, life imprisonment, temporary imprisonment, confinement, detention, and flagellation. Defendants have the right to appeal within 15 days of a guilty verdict, leading to a court of appeal hearing. The court of appeal may convert jail terms for minor offenses to community service or vice versa.

Islamic law in Dubai includes the principles of “qisas” (equal punishment) and “diyya” (compensatory payment) for crimes. The death penalty requires agreement from a panel of three judges and confirmation by the President. In cases of murder, only the victim’s family can request the death penalty, and even the President cannot intervene.

Seeking Legal Assistance

Legal representation is vital in criminal cases, especially for serious offenses. Article 4 of Federal Law No. 35 of 1992, as amended, mandates that individuals accused of felonies like life imprisonment or death must have a credible lawyer. If they cannot afford one, the court appoints one.

Local UAE advocates must be well-versed in Arabic, have the right to an audience, or use interpreters. Criminal actions may expire, and the withdrawal or death of the victim can affect the criminal case.

For those facing criminal charges in the UAE, consulting with an experienced criminal lawyer is crucial. They can help navigate the country’s criminal justice system and ensure that justice is served. Al Kabban & Associates have over 30 years’ experience in Criminal law and have the expertise to achieve the best possible outcome in your case.

If you or a loved one requires legal assistance in a criminal case, contact us on +971 4 4539090 or to schedule a meeting with one of our many skilled criminal lawyers in Dubai.

Tags: Criminal Lawyers in Dubai, Criminal Law in UAE, Best Criminal Lawyers in Dubai, Criminal Law


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