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Sweeping changes to UAE laws on inheritance, alcohol consumption, cohabitation and honour crimes

Sweeping changes to UAE laws on inheritance, alcohol consumption, cohabitation and honour crimes

UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan approved the federal law decrees which have now come into effect

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The UAE has introduced sweeping changes to its laws on Saturday with regards to inheritance, alcohol consumption, honour crimes, divorce and cohabitation, among others.

President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan approved the federal law decrees on Saturday, all of which have already come into effect.

Accordingly, the penal code and criminal procedural code has been amended such that the article allowing lenient sentences for what is termed as “honour crimes” has been repealed, reported state news agency WAM.

The UAE will therefore now treat “honour crimes” – instances where men assault female relatives under the pretext of “protecting their honour” – with the same severity as any other crime.

With regards to divorce, a couple married in a foreign country but who seek a divorce in the UAE, will now be subject to the laws of the country where they were married with regards to the division of their assets, reported The National. The courts will mediate in cases where the two parties fail to reach an agreement.

The new law also deals with the matter of inheritance, which previously was settled according to Sharia law. A deceased person’s division of assets among their next of kin will now be determined by the prevailing laws in their home country, except in cases where the deceased individual has executed a will.

There is an exception to this law with regards to property purchased in the UAE, which will still be managed by UAE laws.

Alcohol consumption in the UAE will also no longer be considered a criminal offence. Individuals will no longer require licences to drink, possess or sell alcohol in authorised areas. However, the minimum age for alcohol consumption stands at 21, and selling to underage persons will remain an offence. Also, alcohol will only be allowed to be consumed privately or in licensed public areas.

The latest decision, which will apply to the whole of the UAE, is similar to the law which was introduced in Abu Dhabi in September that scrapped the requirement for residents and tourists to have a licence to buy and drink alcohol.

Read: Abu Dhabi scraps need for individual alcohol licence

The latest amendments to the law have also reportedly decriminalised the cohabitation of unmarried couples. Existing laws barred unmarried couples, or even unrelated individuals of the opposite sex, from sharing a residential accommodation.

There will also be tougher punishment for harassment, and while the exact nature and scope of that hasn’t yet been defined, it is assumed to cover stalking.

The punishment for the rape of a minor or someone with limited mental capacity will be execution.

Translators will be provided to defendants in court if they do not speak Arabic. Also, evidence with regards to indecent acts will have to be protected and cannot be publicly revealed.

The acts of suicide and attempted suicide have also now been decriminalised. Previously, anyone attempting suicide but who survived could be prosecuted. That will no longer be the case and the police and courts will provide mental health support to vulnerable people. However, those found assisting a person to commit suicide will still be prosecuted and will receive a jail sentence.

Another “Good Samaritans” law now removes liability for those coming to the aid of someone. Therefore, “any person who’s 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,” the law reportedly states.

“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,” said Lewis Allsopp, CEO of Dubai-based property services company Allsopp & Allsopp.

Read: Dubai launches new residency programme for overseas remote working professionals

“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,” added Allsopp.

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