Sweeping UAE law changes to reassure expats

Far-reaching secular law changes have been announced in the United Arab Emirates in a move aimed at reassuring the majority expatriate population in the Gulf state.

The changes, which come into immediate effect, cover such areas as decriminalising alcohol consumption and suicide, allowing the cohabitation of unmarried couples, and criminalising so-called honour crimes against women."The historic decision was created in an effort to make the UAE more attractive to expatriates, further strengthen the principles of tolerance within the nation and protect personal liberties and societal security," commented Grazia magazine."Laws have been amended to abolish punishment for non-harmful acts and to increase punishment for harassment and assault, effective immediately."President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan approved the federal law decrees at the weekend after a two-year review of laws in a state where more than 80 per cent of the 9.6 million population originates from elsewhere in the world.The changes mean that, henceforth, 'honour crimes' will be treated the same as any other assault, with the previous entitlement for male relatives to receive lighter sentences for assaulting women on the grounds they were protecting the family honour, being revoked.Unmarried couples will also be allowed to cohabit legally for the first time and there will be tougher punishments for harassment, and the introduction of the death penalty for the rape of a minor.And alcohol consumption in the UAE will no longer be considered a criminal offence. Until now, drinkers were required to obtain licences to consume, possess or sell alcohol in authorised areas. Those individual licences will now go, although drinking will only be allowed privately or in licensed public areas, and the minimum age for alcohol consumption remains 21.“The UAE is again demonstrating its ability to attract millions of people from around the world to live and work here,” commented The National newspaper in Abu Dhabi. “Some of the issues that have been addressed by these laws are important to families who are settling in the UAE and making it their home."Other changes include an overhaul of divorce laws, which will allow separating couples to be subject to the divorce laws pertaining in the country where they were married, rather than those existing in the UAE.Similarly, the new laws cover inheritance, which until now has been settled according to Sharia law. From now on, however, a deceased person’s division of assets among their next of kin will also be determined by the prevailing laws in their home country. The one exception will be property purchased in the UAE, which will still be managed by UAE laws.Additionally, the law now provides an automatic right to translators for defendants in court who do not speak Arabic; the decriminalisation of acts of suicide and attempted suicide; and the introduction of a 'Good Samaritans' law stating that “any person who is committing an act out of good intention, that may end up hurting that person, will not be punished".Lewis Allsopp, CEO of Dubai-based property services company Allsopp & Allsopp, told Gulf Business: “The UAE has always been forthcoming in offering opportunities for overseas expatriates but the new legislation brought in by the government on personal and family law further solidifies the country as a welcoming environment for foreigners. “The new legislation, teamed with the virtual visa for overseas workers will encourage more expats to the country and will be a welcomed boost to the Dubai property market. Working professionals will now take the virtual visa as a chance to trial Dubai without the risk of leaving a secure job in their home country."

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

Subscribe to Relocate Extra, our monthly newsletter, to get all the latest international assignments and global mobility news.Relocate’s new Global Mobility Toolkit provides free information, practical advice and support for HR, global mobility managers and global teams operating overseas.Global Mobility Toolkit download factsheets resource centreAccess hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online DirectoryClick to get to the Relocate Global Online Directory

Related Articles