UAE’s Penal Code: A Guide to Criminal Law of UAE

The United Arab Emirates has established a comprehensive penal code that serves as the foundation for its criminal law. This legal framework plays a crucial role in maintaining law and order within the country while reflecting the cultural values and traditions of the UAE society. An understanding of the UAE’s penal code is essential for residents, visitors, and businesses operating in the nation to ensure compliance and avoid legal consequences. This article aims to provide a comprehensive guide to the criminal law of the UAE, exploring the key aspects and provisions outlined in the penal code.

What is The Main Criminal Law Governing The UAE?

The UAE Penal Code, officially known as the Federal Law No. 3 of 1987 on Issuance of the Penal Code, recently updated in 2022 with Federal Law No. 31 of 2021, is based on a combination of Sharia (Islamic law) principles and contemporary legal practices. In addition to Islamic principles, the criminal process in Dubai draws regulation from the Criminal Procedures Law No 35 of 1991. This law directs the filing of criminal complaints, criminal investigations, trial processes, judgments, and appeals.

The major players involved in the UAE criminal process are the victim/complainant, accused person/defendant, police, the Public Prosecutor, and the courts. Criminal trials typically start when the victim files a complaint against an accused person at a local police station. The police have the duty to investigate alleged offences, while the Public Prosecutor charges the accused person to court.

The UAE court system includes three main courts:

  • The Court of First Instance: When freshly filed, all criminal cases come before this court. The court consists of a single judge who hears the case and delivers judgment. However, three judges hear and determine the case in a felony trial (which carries harsh penalties). There is no allowance for a jury trial at this stage.
  • The Court of Appeal: After the Court of First Instance delivers its judgment, either party may file an appeal to the Court of Appeal. Please note that this court does not hear the matter afresh. It only has to determine if there was an error in the lower court’s judgment.
  • The Cassation Court: Any person dissatisfied with the Court of Appeal’s judgment can further appeal to the Cassation Court. This court’s decision is final.

If convicted of a crime, understanding the Criminal Appeals Process in UAE is essential. An experienced criminal appeals lawyer can help identify grounds for appealing the verdict or sentence.

What are the key principles and provisions of the UAE’s Penal Code?

The UAE Penal Code (Federal Law No. 3 of 1987) is based on a combination of Sharia (Islamic law) principles and contemporary legal concepts. It aims to maintain law and order while preserving the cultural and religious values of the UAE society, as per the general principles outlined in Article 1.

  1. Principles Derived from Sharia Law
  • Prohibitions on activities like gambling, alcohol consumption, illicit sexual relations
  • Hudud crimes like theft and adultery have Sharia-prescribed punishments e.g. amputation, stoning
  • Retributive “eye for an eye” justice for crimes like murder and bodily harm
  1. Contemporary Legal Principles
  • Codification and standardization of laws across emirates
  • Clearly defined crimes, penalties, statutory limitations
  • Due process, presumption of innocence, right to counsel
  1. Key Provisions
  • Crimes against state security – treason, terrorism, etc.
  • Crimes against individuals – murder, assault, defamation, honor crimes
  • Financial crimes – fraud, breach of trust, counterfeiting, money laundering
  • Cybercrimes – hacking, online fraud, illegal content
  • Public safety, moral crimes, prohibited activities

The Penal Code blends Sharia and contemporary principles, though some provisions face human rights criticism. Consulting local legal experts is recommended.

Criminal Law vs Criminal Procedure Law in the UAE

Criminal Law defines the substantive rules that establish what constitutes a crime and prescribe the punishment or penalty to be imposed for proven offenses. It is covered under the UAE Penal Code (Federal Law No. 3 of 1987).

Key Aspects:

  • Categories and classifications of crimes
  • Elements that must be proven for an act to qualify as a crime
  • The punishment or sentence corresponding to each crime

For example, the Penal Code defines murder as a criminal offense and specifies the punishment for someone convicted of murder.

Criminal Procedure Law, on the other hand, establishes the procedural rules and processes for enforcing the substantive criminal laws. It is outlined in the UAE Criminal Procedure Law (Federal Law No. 35 of 1992).

Key Aspects:

  • Powers and limitations of law enforcement in investigations
  • Procedures for arrest, detention, and charging an accused
  • Rights and protections afforded to the accused
  • Conducting trials and court proceedings
  • The appeals process after a judgment

For instance, it lays down rules for collecting evidence, the process of charging someone, conducting a fair trial, and the appeals mechanism.

While criminal law defines what a crime is, criminal procedure law ensures those substantive laws are implemented properly through an established judicial process, from investigation to prosecution and trials.

The former outlines legal consequences, the latter enables enforcement of those laws.

    Classification of Offences and Crimes in UAE criminal law

    Before filing a criminal complaint, it’s essential to learn the types of offences and crimes under UAE law. There are three main offence types and their penalties:

    • Contraventions (Violations): This is the least harsh category or minor offence of UAE offences. They include any act or omission that attracts a punishment or penalty of no more than 10 days in jail or a maximum fine of 1,000 dirhams.
    • Misdemeanors: A misdemeanor is punishable with confinement, a fine of 1,000 to 10,000 dirhams at most, or deportation. The offence or penalty may also attract Diyyat, an Islamic payment of “blood money”.
    • Felonies: These are the harshest crimes under UAE law, and they are punishable by a maximum of life imprisonment, death, or Diyyat.

    How Are Criminal Laws Enforced in The UAE?

    Criminal laws in the UAE are enforced through the combined efforts of law enforcement agencies, the public prosecution, and the judicial system, as outlined in the UAE Criminal Procedure Law. The process typically begins with an investigation conducted by police authorities upon receiving information about a potential crime. They have the power to summon individuals, collect evidence, make arrests, and refer cases to the public prosecution.

    The public prosecution then reviews the evidence and decides whether to press formal charges or dismiss the case. If charges are filed, the case proceeds to trial in the relevant court – the Court of First Instance for felonies and misdemeanors, and the Court of Misdemeanors for lesser offenses. Trials are overseen by judges who evaluate the evidence and testimonies presented by the prosecution and defense.

    After the court issues a judgment, both the convicted person and the prosecution reserve the right to appeal to higher courts like the Court of Appeal and then the Court of Cassation. The enforcement of final verdicts and sentences is carried out through the police, public prosecution, and the prison system in the UAE.

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    What is The Process For Reporting A Crime in The UAE?

    When a crime occurs in the UAE, the first step is to file a complaint with the police at the nearest station, preferably close to where the incident took place. This can be done either orally or in writing, but the complaint must clearly detail the events that constitute the alleged criminal offense.

    The police will have the complainant provide their statement, which is recorded in Arabic and must be signed. Additionally, UAE law allows complainants to call witnesses who can corroborate their account and lend credibility to the allegations. Having witnesses provide supplementary context can greatly aid the subsequent criminal investigation.

    Once a complaint is filed, the relevant authorities commence an investigation to verify the claims and attempt to identify and locate potential suspects. Depending on the nature of the crime, this could involve legal officers from the police, immigration officials, coast guards, municipality inspectors, border patrol, and other law enforcement agencies.

    A key part of the investigation is interrogating any identified suspects and taking their statements. The suspects also have the right to present their own witnesses to support their version of events. Authorities collect and analyze all available evidence such as documents, photos/videos, forensics, and witness testimony.

    If the investigation finds sufficient evidence of a criminal act, the public prosecutor then decides whether to press formal charges. If charges are filed, the case proceeds to the UAE courts as per the Criminal Procedure Law.

    At this stage, those looking to pursue a criminal case against another party should take certain steps in addition to the police complaint:

    • Obtain a medical report documenting any injuries
    • Gather other evidence like insurance records and witness statements
    • Consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer

    If the prosecutor moves forward with charges, the complainant may need to file a civil lawsuit to have the criminal case heard in court.

    What Types of Crimes Can Be Reported?

    The following crimes can be reported to the police in UAE:

    • Murder
    • Homicide
    • Rape
    • Sexual Assault
    • Burglary
    • Theft
    • Embezzlement
    • Traffic-related cases
    • Forgery
    • Counterfeiting
    • Drugs Offenses
    • Any other crime or activity that violates the law

    For incidents linked to safety or harassment, the police can be reached directly through their Aman Service on 8002626 or via an SMS to 8002828. In addition, individuals can report crimes online through the Abu Dhabi police website or at any branch of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in Dubai.

    What Are The Procedures For Criminal Investigations And Trials in The UAE?

    Criminal investigations in the UAE are governed by the Criminal Procedure Law and overseen by the public prosecution. When a crime is reported, the police and other law enforcement agencies conduct an initial investigation to gather evidence. This can involve:

    • Questioning suspects, victims, and witnesses
    • Collecting physical evidence, documents, recordings etc.
    • Conducting searches, seizures, and forensic analysis
    • Working with experts and consultants as needed

    The findings are presented to the public prosecution, who reviews the evidence and decides whether to press charges or dismiss the case. The Public Prosecutor will invite and separately interview the complainant and suspect to ascertain their stories. At this stage, either party may produce witnesses to verify their account and help the Public Prosecutor determine if a charge is necessary. Statements at this stage are also made or translated into Arabic and signed by both parties. If charges are filed, the prosecution prepares the case for trial.

    Criminal trials in the UAE take place in the courts under the purview of judges. The process typically involves:

    • The charges being read out by the prosecution
    • The defendant entering a plea of guilty or not guilty
    • The prosecution and defense presenting their evidence and arguments
    • Examination of witnesses from both sides
    • Closing statements from prosecution and defense

    The judge(s) then deliberate in private and issue a reasoned judgment – acquitting the defendant if not convinced of guilt beyond reasonable doubt or issuing a conviction and sentence if they find the defendant guilty based on the evidence.

    Both the convicted person and prosecution have the right to appeal to higher courts against the judgment or sentence. The appeals courts review the case records and may uphold or overturn the lower court’s decision.

    Throughout the process, certain rights such as presumption of innocence, access to legal counsel, and standards of evidence and proof must be upheld as per UAE law. Criminal courts handle cases ranging from minor offenses to serious crimes like financial fraud, cybercrimes, and violence.

    Is It Possible to Pursue a Criminal Case if the Perpetrator Cannot Be Found?

    Yes, it is possible to pursue a criminal case in some cases, even if the perpetrator cannot be located. Suppose the victim has gathered evidence documenting how they were injured and can provide clear documentation of when and where the incident occurred. In that case, it will be possible to pursue a criminal case.

    What Are The Legal Rights Of Victims Under UAE’s Criminal Law?

    The UAE takes measures to protect and uphold the rights of crime victims during the legal process. Key rights afforded to victims under the UAE Criminal Procedure Law and other regulations include:

    1. Right to File a Criminal Complaint Victims have the right to report crimes and initiate legal proceedings against perpetrators
    2. Rights During Investigation
    • Right to have complaints promptly and thoroughly investigated
    • Right to provide evidence and witness testimony
    • Right to participate in certain investigative measures
    1. Rights During Trial
    • Right to access legal counsel and representation
    • Right to attend court hearings unless excluded for reasons
    • Right to review/comment on evidence submitted
    1. Right to Seek Damages/Compensation
    • Right to claim compensation from perpetrators for damages, injuries, medical expenses and other quantifiable losses
    • Victims can also seek reimbursement for travel and other expenses but not for wages/income lost due to time spent attending court proceedings
    1. Rights Related to Privacy, Safety and Support
    • Right to have identities protected and kept confidential if required
    • Right to protection measures for victims of crimes like human trafficking, violence etc.
    • Access to victim support services, shelters, counseling and financial aid funds

    The UAE has established mechanisms for victims to claim damages and compensation through civil lawsuits against perpetrators. Additionally, victims have the right to legal assistance and can appoint lawyers or have legal aid assigned. Support entities also provide free advice and counsel.

    Overall, UAE laws aim to safeguard victims’ rights to privacy, prevent re-victimization, ensure safety, enable compensation claims, and provide rehabilitation services during the criminal justice process.

    What is the Role of the Defense Lawyer in Criminal Cases?

    The defense lawyer is responsible for defending the offender in court. They may challenge the evidence presented by the prosecutor and argue that the offender should be released or given a reduced sentence.

    Here are some of the duties that a criminal lawyer plays in criminal cases:

    • The defense lawyer may speak on behalf of the offender at court hearings.
    • If the case ends in a conviction, the lawyer will work with the defendant to determine an appropriate sentence and present mitigating circumstances to reduce sentencing.
    • When negotiating a plea bargain with the prosecution, the defense lawyer may submit a recommendation for a reduced sentence.
    • The defense lawyer is responsible for representing the defendant in sentencing hearings.

    What is the Role of Forensic Evidence in Criminal Cases?

    Forensic evidence is often used in criminal cases to establish the facts of an incident. This can include DNA evidence, fingerprints, ballistics evidence, and other types of scientific evidence.

    What is the Role of the Police in Criminal Cases?

    When a complaint is reported, the police will refer it to the relevant departments (forensic medicine department, electronic crime department, etc.) for review.

    The police will then refer the complaint to the public prosecution, where a prosecutor will be assigned to review it according to the UAE Penal Code.

    The police will also investigate the complaint and collect evidence to support the case. They may also arrest and detain the offender.

    What is the Role of the Prosecutor in Criminal Cases?

    When a complaint is referred to the public prosecution, a prosecutor will be assigned to review it. The prosecutor will then decide whether to prosecute the case or not. They may also choose to drop the case if there is insufficient evidence to support it.

    The prosecutor will also work with the police to investigate the complaint and collect evidence. They may also arrest and detain the offender.

    What is the Role of the Victim’s Lawyer in Criminal Cases?

    An offender may be convicted and ordered to pay the victim compensation in some cases. The victim’s lawyer will work with the court during sentencing or later to collect evidence to determine whether the offender has the financial abilities to compensate the victim.

    The victim’s lawyer may also represent them in civil suits against offenders.

    If you have been accused of committing a crime, it is essential to seek the services of a criminal lawyer. They will be able to advise you on your rights and represent you in court.

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    How Does The UAE’s Criminal law Handle Cases Involving Foreigners Or Visitors?

    The United Arab Emirates enforces its comprehensive legal system equally on citizens and non-citizens for any criminal offenses committed within its borders. Foreign nationals, expatriate residents, and visitors are all subject to the UAE’s criminal laws and judicial processes without exception.

    If accused of a crime in the UAE, foreigners will go through arrest, charges, and prosecution via the local courts where the alleged offense occurred. Proceedings are in Arabic, with translation provided if needed. The same standards of evidence, legal representation provisions, and sentencing guidelines apply regardless of one’s nationality or residency status.

    It’s crucial for foreigners to understand that actions acceptable elsewhere may constitute crimes in the UAE due to differences in laws and cultural norms. Ignorance of the law does not excuse criminal behavior.

    Embassies may offer consular assistance, but the UAE maintains full authority over prosecution of foreign defendants. Respecting local laws is a must for visitors and residents alike.

    Moreover, foreigners should note that they may face detention during investigations, with pre-trial procedures and rights to understand. Court cases can also experience lengthy delays impacting one’s stay. Uniquely, double jeopardy principles from other nations may not apply – the UAE could retry someone for an offense they faced prosecution for elsewhere previously.

    What If the Victim Is in Another Country?

    If the victim is not located in UAE, they may still provide evidence to support a criminal case. This can be done using video conferencing, online depositions, and other evidence-gathering methods.

    How Can One Check The Status Of A Criminal Case Or Police Complaint in The UAE?

    The method for tracking the progress of a criminal matter or police complaint filed in the United Arab Emirates varies based on the emirate where the case originated. The two most populous emirates, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, have distinct approaches.


    In Dubai, residents can utilize an online portal created by the Dubai Police force that allows case status checks by simply entering the reference number. However, if this digital service is inaccessible, alternative contact options like:

    • The police call center
    • Email
    • Website/app live chat

    Abu Dhabi

    On the other hand, Abu Dhabi takes a different route by offering a dedicated case tracking service through the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department’s website. To use this, one must first register for an account using their Emirates ID number and date of birth before gaining access to view case details online.

    General Tips

    No matter which emirate is involved, retaining the specific case reference number is vital for any online inquiry about its status and progress.

    If the digital options are unavailable or experiencing technical difficulties, directly contacting either the original police station where the complaint was filed or the judicial authorities overseeing the case can provide the necessary updates.

    It’s important to note that while these online tracking services aim to increase transparency, they are still evolving systems that may encounter limitations periodically. Traditional channels of communication with law enforcement and the courts remain reliable alternatives.

    How Does the UAE’s Criminal Law Handle Arbitration or Alternative Dispute Resolution?

    The UAE criminal law system primarily deals with prosecution of criminal offenses through the court system. However, it does allow for arbitration and alternative dispute resolution methods in certain cases before formal charges are brought.

    For minor criminal complaints, police authorities may first attempt to resolve the matter through mediation between the parties involved. If a settlement is reached, the case can be closed without proceeding to trial. This is commonly used for issues like bounced cheques, minor assaults, or other misdemeanors.

    Binding arbitration is also recognized for certain civil matters that have criminal implications, such as labor disputes or commercial conflicts. An appointed arbitration panel can render a decision that is legally enforceable. But for more serious criminal allegations, the case will go through the standard prosecution channels in the UAE courts.

    Why Do You Need A Local Specialized And Experienced Criminal Lawyer

    Facing criminal charges in the United Arab Emirates demands specialist legal expertise that only a local, seasoned criminal lawyer can provide. The UAE’s unique legal system, blending civil and Sharia laws, requires in-depth knowledge that comes from years of experience working within its judicial processes. A lawyer based in the Emirates understands the nuances that international practitioners may overlook.

    More than just comprehending the laws, a local criminal lawyer serves as an invaluable guide for navigating the UAE’s courts. They are well-versed in the protocols, procedures and dynamics of the justice system. Their linguistic proficiency in Arabic ensures accurate translation of documents and clear communication during hearings. Aspects like these can be critical advantages.

    Additionally, UAE lawyers with established careers often possess connections, reputation and a deep cultural understanding – assets that can benefit a client’s case strategy. They grasp how the society’s customs and values interplay with the laws. This context informs how they construct legal defenses and negotiate for favorable resolutions with authorities.

    From managing different criminal charges to handling evidence properly, a specialized local criminal lawyer has honed tactics specific to the UAE Courts. Their strategic representation draws from direct experience uniquely relevant to your situation. While all legal counsel is important when accused, having an advocate deeply ensconced in UAE criminal law can make a pivotal difference.

    Whether you have been investigated, arrested, or charged with a criminal offense in the United Arab Emirates, it is essential to have a lawyer who understands the laws of the country. Your legal consultation with us will help us to understand your situation and concerns. Contact us to schedule a meeting. Call us now for an Urgent Appointment and Meeting at +971506531334 +971558018669