10 legal questions answered

What’s perfectly acceptable in some countries is illegal in others. Don’t let ignorance of UAE laws land you behind bars

Interview, The Knowledge
Interview, The Knowledge

Can you be arrested for public displays of affection?
Yes. It’s a good idea to curb any al-fresco passion in the UAE, which is prohibited by the Penal Code. It’s punishable by a prison term of no less than six months. Kissing and holding hands are both included under the act.

Can employers demand to hold your passport?
No. As per the UAE consti- tution it is not permissible for anyone to carry a passport that is not their own. The court usually deals with this matter on an urgent basis and orders the employer to hand back the passport to its holder. However, it is a common practice now in the UAE that an employee’s passport is kept with the employer until the end of the employee’s service, despite the fact that it is against the law and UAE constitution.

Can you be imprisoned for running a red light?
Yes. In most cases the offender gets only a fine, accrues black points and the car will be impounded for 15 days. But, if the car running the red light caused serious injury or death, then the offender might face imprisonment.

What happens if you are found living with members of the opposite sex who are not your relatives?
There isn’t a UAE law relating to this in particular. However, in the absence of a law, and as the UAE is an Islamic country, the Civil Code stipulates that a judge must pass judgement according to Islamic Shari’ah law. Shari’ah has very strongly and clearly prohibited strangers [or unrelated persons] of the opposite sex from co-existing in an isolated place – not to mention living together.

Can non-Muslims be imprisoned for drinking, eating or smoking in daylight hours during Ramadan?
Yes. According to the Penal Code, non-Muslims can face imprisonment for a period of no less than one month if caught drinking, eating or smoking in daylight hours during Ramadan.

What happens if a cheque you have written bounces?
A bounced cheque is a crime according to the UAE Penal Code and the offender will face imprisonment or a fine as per the judge’s discretion. However, the case can be dropped if the offender settles the amount before a final judgement is issued. In some cases, the judge may order the withdrawal of the offender’s cheque book and issue directives to the Central Bank to that effect. Should the offender violate such an order then they will cop a Dhs100,000 fine. Ouch.

What happens if you verbally swear at someone, or make an indecent gesture?
If you flip someone ‘the bird’, or verbally swear, you could face imprisonment of up to two years and a fine of up to Dhs20,000.

What happens if you fall into debt in the UAE?
Falling into debt is not a criminal act, but failing to settle what you owe can get you into trouble if the creditor reports the default to the authorities. Depending on the nature of the debt, the debtor can be subject to prosecution and a trial. However, the UAE Commercial Transactions Law permits traders and companies to declare insolvency if they get into a critical financial situation. The judge at his own discretion shall decide whether or not the state of default represents insolvency.

What happens if you are caught drink driving?
A person who is caught driving under the influence faces imprisonment of up to three years in addition to the confiscation or suspension of the driving license. If a Muslim is caught, he or she can get lashed in most of Emirates.

Are there any other laws that expatriates should be aware of?
Expatriates should be aware of the Labour Law, the Immigration and Residency Law, the Penal Code as well as the Companies Law. For advice on these laws and other, contact legal consultants Al Tamimi & Company, see contact details below.
Al Tamimi & Company, head office at DIFC, Building 4 East (04 364 1641; www.tamimi.com; info@tamimi).

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