The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has announced on Saturday (November 7) several amendments to its Islamic personal laws, now allowing unmarried couples to cohabitate, loosening alcohol restrictions, and imposing harsher punishments for “honor killings.”
The said updates intend to help boost the country’s economic and social standing as well as “consolidate the UAE’s principles of tolerance.”
UAE Announces Revisions to Personal and Family Laws for Expats
The laws, which are put into effect immediately, reflect the progressive developments upheld by the UAE government to improve living standards in the UAE and further solidify the country’s position as a destination for foreign direct investment and people from around the world, reported The National.
The changes to existing laws and the introduction of new ones seek to make more acceptable standards among crucial personal and civil laws, with provisions allowing non-Emiratis to have their personal affairs dealt with according to the law of their home country.
The reforms include:
• Suicide and attempted suicide have been decriminalised, with authorities to arrange mental health services for those in need.
• Non-Emirati couples who divorce in the UAE, can follow the rules of their home country.
— حسن سجواني 🇦🇪 Hassan Sajwani (@HSajwanization) November 7, 2020
— WAM English (@WAMNEWS_ENG) November 7, 2020
In line with these changes, the laws of a person’s country of origin can be used for divorces and inheritance. This means that Islamic law, or Sharia, would rarely be applied when it comes to family law cases that involve expatriates. A number of these measures have been discussed in the UAE for some time and reflect a major milestone in the country’s continued judicial progress. Here are some of the recent amendments applied to these areas of laws in the UAE:
Divorce and Inheritance
Among the major amendments to the UAE’s civil and personal laws is the one that relates to divorce, separation, and the division of assets if a marriage breaks down.
According to the amended law, if a couple was married in their home country, but decide to file a divorce in the UAE, the laws of the country where the marriage took place will be observed.
Further, the new law touches on joint assets and joint accounts. It maintains that in the instance that there was no agreement between the two parties regarding these, it could be brought to the UAE court.
Other areas that the new law covers are that of wills and inheritance. Under the Sharia law, family members of a deceased person, particularly in acrimonious cases, will have found the assets split among them, a resolution which expats may not be used to.
Harassment and Assault
Women’s rights have long been an issue in many Islamic countries. And in the new changes to the law, “honor crimes” wherein a male relative can get a lighter sentence for assaulting a female relative under the guise of “protecting honor” will be treated as crimes, similar to that of other kinds of assault.
Moreover, tougher punishments are set in place for those who subject women to any kind of harassment. Also, the punishment for the rape of a minor or someone with limited mental capacity will be execution.
Another change worth looking into is that of the consumption of alcohol. Anyone who consumes or is found to be in possession of alcohol without a license will not face penalties.
That said, a person must still be at least the age of 21 years to drink legally in the UAE. Also, those who will consume and purchase alcohol should be done in licensed places or privately at their homes. And anyone caught selling alcohol to minors will be punished.
Cohabitation / Living Together
For the first time, cohabitation of unmarried couples will be made legal under the law. Until now, unmarried couples or even unrelated flatmates are not allowed to share a home in the Emirates.
Under the new law, translators must be provided to defendants and witnesses in court if they do not speak Arabic. In line with this, the court must ensure the availability of legal translators for such purposes. Furthermore, new privacy laws maintain that evidence related to cases of indecent acts will need to be protected and cannot be publicly disclosed.
Suicide and ‘Good Samaritans’
Until now, those committing suicide or attempted suicide will have been prosecuted under the Sharia law. However, this will no longer be the case. Instead, those deemed as vulnerable will receive mental health support. On the other hand, those caught assisting an individual with an attempted suicide will face an unspecified jail sentence.
Additionally, the law will now offer protection to “Good Samaritans” who intervene in situations where people are in need. This is because under a long-standing, but rarely used clause, someone who provides aid such as CPR or first aid to those in need may be held accountable for their injury or death.
In line with this, the new law states that “any person who’s committing an act out of good intention, that may end up hurting that person, will not be punished.”
Since the UAE is home to over 200 nationalities, the government aims to be more accommodating when it comes to enforcing laws that have an impact on their rights as UAE residents. That said, the set of reforms will affect laws that relate to divorce and separation, how wills and assets are divided, alcohol, suicide, as well as the protection of women.
With these changes in the UAE’s legal system, the country hopes to further strengthen its economic and social standing in observance of the UAE’s policies of tolerance.
Reminders for Expats
According to reports, these changes are to take effect immediately. But be advised that the governing bodies may require time to implement these policies as they may wait for the official circulars/documents from the respective authorities.
As a summary, we are glad that the UAE has made these updates. However, let us all remind each other not to abuse the updates and relaxation of these policies.
Let’s all continue to be responsible with our actions and make sure that we still follow and respect other people.