Changes have been introduced to the UAE Penal Code to replace jail terms for minor offences with community service, according to a new law.
Community payback such as cleaning the streets, schools or other voluntary work will be determined in a decision by the Minister of Justice, in agreement with the ministers of Interior and Emiratisation and Human Resources, according to the new law issued by President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan last month.
Community service of up to three months will replace punishment for minor offences that would have otherwise been punishable by not more than six months or a fine, states the new law which will take effect from next month.
Public prosecutors will oversee implementation of the community service and receive reports on the offenders’ performance.
The court, on recommendation from prosecutors, may order a jail term similar to the community service period if the offenders fail to discharge their duties during the community payback period.
In 2009, the Cabinet approved the federal law of alternative punishments which lists 20 offences that call for community service ranging between 20 to 240 hours.
By applying the new code, the UAE will be the first among Arab countries to adopt such a type of law.
Legal experts said the move towards restorative justice or alternative sentencing means that some offenders avoid imprisonment with its many unwanted consequences. They deem it beneficial for society, as it may prevent them from getting into the so-called revolving door syndrome, the inability of a person to get back to normal life after leaving prison, becoming a career criminal. Furthermore, experts say, there are hopes that this could alleviate prison overcrowding and reduce the cost of punishment.
The community service may include unpaid work or community payback, house arrest, curfew, mandatory treatments and programmes (drug or alcohol treatment, psychological help and regular reporting to an official).
Meanwhile, the new law provides for tougher penalties for crimes committed in a state of war and acts of terror.
Under the law, a citizen who joins in any way the armed forces or security institutions of an enemy in a state of war with the UAE will face execution.
The capital punishment will also be handed down to those who commit any crime to undermine the sovereignty, independence and integrity of the nation.
Deliberately acting against a foreign country with a purpose to harm diplomatic relations of the country or endanger its citizens, employees, money or interests, will be punishable with a life sentence.
Insulting the president of the UAE will carry a jail term ranging between 15 and 25 years and a fine, according to the new law.
Capital punishment or life sentence will be handed down to those who set up, run or join any organisation, group or gang plotting to overthrow the government and seize power in the UAE. Promoting these organisations verbally, in writing or by any other means, will carry a jail term ranging between 15 and 25 years.
Abusing religion to entice sedition verbally, in writing or by any other means, will carry a jail term of not less than 10 years.
Insulting the UAE, its flag, national logo, leadership or institutions will carry a jail term ranging between 10 and 25 years and a fine of at least Dh500,000.
Publishing false news, statements or rumours with a purpose of terrifying the people or harming public interest will carry a jail term of at least one year.
Making, importing, exporting or possessing pornographic material will carry a prison term of up to three years or a fine of at least Dh5,000 or both.
Gambling will be punishable by a prison term of up to two years or a fine of up to Dh50,000. The penalty will be stiffened to three years in jail and a fine if the crime is committed in public or a place designed for gambling.
Prostitution and abuse
Those who set up or run a brothel for prostitution will be penalised by a prison term and a fine of at least Dh100,000.
The law makes it a criminal offence to swear or use abusive language against a person, punishable by a prison term of up to a year or a fine of up to Dh10,000. The penalty will be increased to up to two years in jail or a fine of up to Dh20,000 or both if the swearing was against a public officer. Publishing of swearing or use of abusive language will toughen the penalty, according to the law.
Torturing, mistreating or failing to provide due care to a pet will carry a fine of up to Dh5,000.
Trespassing will be punishable by a jail term of up to one year or a fine of up to Dh5,000.
Failing to pay the bill for your hotel stay, a rental car, or dine and dash without paying in a restaurant will be punishable by a prison term of up to six months, or a fine of up to Dh5,000 or both.