An Overview of the Criminal Law System in the United Arab Emirates


Information on this webpage is provided as a public service by the Government of Canada. While every effort is made to provide accurate information, information contained here is provided on an “as is” basis without warranty of any kind, express or implied. The Government of Canada assumes no responsibility or liability of any kind and shall not be liable for any damages in connection to the information provided. This publication is not intended to provide legal or other advice and should not be relied upon in that regard. The reader is encouraged to retain a lawyer, if arrested or detained, and to supplement this information with independent research and professional advice. The information on this webpage is updated on a regular basis; however, laws are subject to change at any time.


This document is intended to give you basic information on how the United Arab Emirates’ (U.A.E.’s) criminal law system functions. It is not a substitute for legal advice, which can only be provided by a lawyer qualified to practice in the U.A.E. It should also be read in conjunction with the brochure A Guide for Canadians Imprisoned Abroad, particularly the section “Hiring a foreign lawyer.”

If you break the laws of another country, you are subject to the judicial system of that country. Being a foreigner or not knowing the local laws is not an excuse. The Government of Canada can neither protect you from the consequences of your actions nor override the decisions of local authorities.

The U.A.E. and Canadian criminal law systems are significantly different. This can increase the stress and practical problems arising from arrest and imprisonment in the United Arab Emirates. For example, in the United Arab Emirates:

The Government of Canada will seek to ensure you are not penalized for being a foreigner and that you are neither discriminated against nor denied justice because you are Canadian. It cannot, however, seek preferential treatment for you or try to exempt you from the due process of local law. The Government of Canada cannot interfere in the judicial system of another country, just as Canadians would not stand for another government interfering in Canada’s judicial process.

For further information on the services consular officials can and cannot provide, please consult the Canadian Consular Services Charter.

Your choice of legal representation in the United Arab Emirates can be critically important and should be made with care. Consular officials can provide a list of lawyers who have expertise in your type of case and who may have represented Canadians in the past. They cannot, however, recommend specific lawyers. You may prefer to hire a lawyer who is not on the list. This decision remains your responsibility. For further information, please consult “Hiring a foreign lawyer” in A Guide for Canadians Imprisoned Abroad.

Information in this article is based on the writ of federal criminal law, which is applicable to all emirates comprising the United Arab Emirates. In practice, however, there are differences among emirates with respect to the timeline of the judicial process. Consult your lawyer about any differences in the emirate in which you are being tried.

Arrest and detention procedures

The initial investigation or recommendation for arrest follows the filing of a complaint by an individual, organization or governmental authority at a police station, unless a suspect is arrested while allegedly committing a crime. For non-violent crimes or financial crime offences, the accused may be asked to give a statement or to discuss the issue at a police station in the jurisdiction in which the complaint is filed. The suspect can be accompanied by a lawyer, but a lawyer’s presence is not permitted during the taking of a deposition. A person can be detained from this point, based solely on the appreciation by the investigator(s) of the elements gathered during the deposition, until a formal arrest is made or the prosecutor’s office rejects the case.

A person can be legally detained for 48 hours at a local police station. Once transferred to the public prosecution, the detainee can be under custody for 24 hours before the formal investigation begins. The prosecutor can extend the detention of the suspect for a maximum period of 14 days (in total). The court can also extend the period of detention for renewable, 30-day periods. For offences where bail applies, release is always dependent upon the ability to meet the conditions set for bail, which can be difficult. There is no bond, and agencies providing this service are not allowed to operate in the United Arab Emirates.

The prosecutor’s office may file a formal complaint and recommend charges and a formal arrest. Following acceptance of the complaint, an arrest warrant is issued to apprehend the alleged offender (if not already in custody) and an alert is issued to all points of entry and exit (commonly referred to as a travel ban). If the defendant is already in the custody of the police station with jurisdiction over the case, his/her statement should be formally taken within 24 hours.

Detention periods fall under federal jurisdiction and are the same across the United Arab Emirates. The length of detention periods is usually affected by the level of bail (guarantee) required for pre-trial release, which is determined on a case-by-case basis. For cases involving distribution of narcotics, grievous injury or death, bail is unlikely to be granted.

In detention, local telephone calls are allowed but there is no guarantee of privacy because information given over the phone may be considered as evidence.

Your rights under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations

The United Arab Emirates is not a signatory to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

Investigation and bail

The formal investigation is conducted following the prosecution’s agreement to continue the case to prepare for trial. At this stage, the prosecution decides to continue detention (for seven days) or release (on bail) the charged person. At the request of the investigations team, the public prosecutor may grant detention extensions (up to three) if the accused has not yet been granted bail. The first extension is for an additional seven days, the second and third extensions are for 30-day periods each. The accused may appeal 30-day extensions. The appeal must be made within three days of being notified by the court that the extension will be applied.

If the formal investigation was discontinued but new evidence is found or submitted by the original complainant, the authorities may choose to reopen a case against the suspect. The prosecutor’s office is responsible for submitting the new evidence to the court. Acceptance to reopen the case commences the procedures for the issuance of a formal arrest with charges.

When the bail period has expired, the accused can still be detained if the conditions of the bail/release order have not been met. Additional bail may be a condition precedent to release, over which the public prosecutor has sole discretion. The public prosecutor can also decide to retain the accused’s passport. If the accused does not have a passport, a guarantor’s passport may be required to fulfill release conditions.

The criminal trial

All court procedures are conducted in Arabic, and all statements are taken in or translated into Arabic. The public prosecutor and the courts will provide the accused with a sworn translator.

Cases are heard before a judge in a closed (non-public) setting. Only legal counsel for the prosecution and defence, the defendant, the victim(s) and parties to the case, along with any expert witnesses that may have been called for an opinion, may be present in chambers. When minors are involved, parents and legal guardians may attend. There are no jury trials.

Duration of a trial and sentencing

Timelines may vary, depending on the emirate in which you are tried, and there is no duration limit for a trial. Motions for extensions and postponements are common. In the U.A.E. penal code, punishments are divided into two categories, Sharia-based and Chastisement.

Doctrinal punishments are based on Islamic jurisprudence (Sharia). For example, qisas is equal punishment (an eye for an eye, for example) and diyya is compensatory payment for the death of a victim (known as “blood money”). Diyya is not exclusively used for punishment (or victim’s relief) in a criminal setting. Diyya is often applied in motor vehicle accident and other cases where death has resulted from the actions of another person found negligent. Diyya is federally limited at AED200,000.

Chastisement penalties include:

Detention periods endured prior to a conviction and sentencing are usually applied as time served when considering release dates. Months and years are calculated according to the Islamic calendar, which is lunar-based and therefore slightly shorter than the solar-based, Gregorian calendar system used in Canada.

If you are found guilty, following your sentencing you have 15 days to appeal the guilty verdict. If you appeal, you will likely remain in custody until a hearing is held before the court of appeal.

The court of appeal’s decision may also be appealed, to the highest court, but only if the defence can argue that an error was made in the application of the law by one of the lower courts. You should consult with your lawyer if you are considering filing an appeal.

Jail terms for minor offences may be replaced with community service. Minor offences that are otherwise punishable by not more than six months or a fine will be replaced by community service of up to three months. Public prosecutors oversee the implementation of community service and receive reports on the offender’s performance. The court, on recommendation from prosecutors, may order a jail term similar to the period of community service if the offenders fail to discharge their duties during the community payback period.

Transfer to a Canadian prison

There is no treaty in place between Canada and the United Arab Emirates for transfer of offenders to a Canadian prison.

Clemency intervention in death penalty cases

The death penalty can be applied in the United Arab Emirates as a capital punishment for crimes endangering the society’s safety. It is rarely carried out, however, as a panel of three judges must agree on the decision of a sentence to death and the death penalty may not be executed until it is confirmed by the U.A.E. president.

The following crimes carry a maximum penalty of death:

Under Islamic law as applied in the United Arab Emirates, if the court finds the defendant guilty of murder, only the victim’s family can ask for the death penalty or waive that right and demand diyya. Not even the U.A.E. president can interfere.

In cases where an extenuating excuse exists, or a case can be made for clemency, the death penalty may be commuted to life or temporary imprisonment.

If you have been charged with or convicted of a crime punishable by death, you should consult your lawyer and speak to a Canadian consular official. The Government of Canada opposes the use of the death penalty in all cases, everywhere, and will undertake clemency intervention in your case. Clemency intervention is defined as any diplomatic effort, taken at any stage of the process after detention, aimed at avoiding imposition of the death penalty or the sentence being carried out.

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