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UAE introduces major legal reforms including improved judicial procedure, legalisation of alcohol consumption and cohabitation by unmarried couples

Under the reformed laws, a male relative will not be able to get away with lighter punishment for assaulting a female relative and such an incident will be treated as assault.

In a bid to be improve the standard of living and to keep the foreign direct investment flowing in, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is set to introduce some sweeping amendments in its legal system including family laws. As reported by the National News, the reforms that will come into effect immediately will allow non-citizens to have their personal matters dealt with as per the law of their home country. The amendments will be affecting crucial personals laws including laws relating to divorce and separation, division of wills and assets, suicide and protection of women.

Under the reformed legal system, the laws of a person’s country of origin can be invoked in several cases including divorce and inheritance, which will mean reduced application of Islamic sharia law for foreigners. Here is a look at some of the laws that will be witness major changes after the amendments:

Laws relating to divorce and inheritance

As per the report, under the reformed laws, in case a couple married in their home country gets divorced in the UAE, a similar procedure of divorce as in their home country could be adopted in a UAE court. The new laws also make provision for joint accounts, joint assets and a mediation process in a court in the absence of any agreement between the parties. The reforms will also apply to laws relating to wills and inheritance. In the absence of a will, a person’s assets can now be divided among their next of kin as per the laws of their home country. However, if the property was purchased in the UAE, it will be governed by the laws of the UAE.

Non-Muslims in Dubai have been getting their wills registered with wills and probate registry of Dubai International Financial Centre which is linked to the government. However, this was not possible in Dubai’s state-run civil courts for some years. In Abu Dhabi, non-Muslims have been getting their wills registered at Emirate’s Judicial Department since

Decriminalisation of attempted suicide and good samaritan

Like India, the UAE has also decriminalised attempted suicide. Prior to the reforms, anyone who attempted suicide could be prosecuted though such instances were rare. Police and courts will now ensure mental health support to vulnerable people. But if anyone found assisting a person who attempted suicide will face imprisonment.

Under the unreformed laws, a person who intervened in situations where someone needed help e.g. providing first aid or giving CPR, the person could be held accountable for any injury or death. But after the reforms, persons who offer help to people in such situations will not be held liable for the outcome. The reformed law provides, “any person who is committing an act out of good intention, that may end up hurting that person, will not be punished. If you want to give help or assistance in an emergency and that person gets harmed (as a result) you will not be punished.”

Consumption or possession of alcohol not a offence

The report says that after the amendment, consumption or possession of alcohol or alcoholic beverages will no longer be an offence. Besides, consuming alcoholic beverages in authorised areas even without a licence will not attract penalty. Earlier, a person could be booked for consuming alcohol without a licence even if arrested for a different offence. The legal age of drinking in the UAE is 21. Anyone caught selling alcohol to an underage person can be punished. However, alcohol can still be consumed privately or in licensed public places. In September this year, Abu Dhabi ended its alcohol licence system for residents. Earlier, a license was needed to purchase or consume alcohol but now the federal law will apply to all emirates.

Women’s safety

The reforms have also addressed one of the most important areas relating to women’s safety. Prior to reforms, a male relative could get away with a lighter punishment for assaulting a female relative in the name of ‘protecting honour’. After the reforms, such instances will be treated at par with a crime of assault. The new laws provide stringent punishment for men who subject women to any kind of harassment including street harassment and stalking. This is in line with a law enacted last year which provided tougher punishment for harassment and recognised that men could be victims of harassment or stalking. In cases of rape with minor or someone with limited mental capacity, the culprit will be executed.

Live-in relations made legal

The reformed law will allow unmarried couples to cohabitate in a live-in relation. Previously, it was forbidden for an unmarried couple or even unrelated flatmates to share a home in the UAE. According to the report, the authorities in the UAE have rarely prosecuted anyone found violating this particular law.

Translators to be provided in courts

After the reforms, the defendants and witnesses will be able to get translators in court if they do not speak Arabic. The courts are mandated to ensure that translators are available. New privacy laws have been introduced prohibiting the publication of evidence relating to indecent acts.

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