The customs and laws in the UAE may feel very different especially compared to Western countries, which could cause confusion for expats while in transit and/or visiting the country, as they are most likely unaware of the rules and regulations. Therefore, it is important to be diligent about the local customs of the UAE prior to your arrival. The same issue concerns the expats in terms of legal process and laws who reside in the UAE and more or less familiar with the country.
Unlike the urban myths, international airports in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are very safe and travelling through them is easy as long as the local culture and laws are respected. If an expat gets stopped at the airport, the first sensible thing to do is to contact the relevant embassy, in order to fully understand the extent of rights and obligations.
Aside from detaining and questioning an individual, the airport police in the UAE has jurisdiction and can place a person under arrest. The detention period could last several days before a Court hearing can be settled.
What would constitute a reason for getting stopped at the airport?
Common reasons can include public intoxication, public display of affection, swearing, inappropriate acts and harassment upon a complaint.
Homosexuality and homosexual relationships are culturally and legally not acceptable and will result in severe punishment if detected by the authorities. This also includes transgender expats and/or tourists who want to enter into the country.
Defamation is also a heavily punishable offense in the UAE legal system. If a person is caught insulting the government or others, the airport police will detain that individual, leading to arrest and pending trial.
Violation of customs rules and regulations will also result in the interruption of a person’s travel at the airport.
The government of the UAE has zero tolerance policy towards drugs. Certain types of drugs are decriminalized in some parts of the world. That is why travellers and resident expats should take extra caution in not to have any traces in their luggage, clothing and/or blood stream.
Upon suspicion, the airport police might require blood and urine tests to determine the existence of drug use. However, criminal repercussions are not only limited to recreational drugs.
Controlled substances such as codeine can easily be found as over-the-counter medicine in many countries. The UAE does not permit these types of substances with or without prescription. If the travellers/expats are carrying medication, a proper prescription should accompany them.
Due to the shifting economic paradigms in the country, many expats have fled the UAE without paying off the loans or debts in previous years. That is why, one of the leading reasons for expats residing in the UAE to be stopped at an airport is outstanding debts.
If the type of debt is a bounced cheque, the Public Prosecution will have a travel ban issued on the debtor. Even when the debtor is cleared of the criminal charges, if civil proceedings are still present, the creditor can ask the judge to issue a travel ban.
Debtors can also be put on a blacklist (in colloquial words) if there is an investigation or an execution judgement that makes the existence of debt certain and convicts the debtor.
As mentioned above, even if the expat is in transit, the police still have jurisdiction for arrest. Unintentional debts may also lead to being blacklisted. For instance, forgotten accounts can result in incurred and unpaid bank fees, for which banks may file a complaint.
Why is legal representation a must?
If the police stop a traveller/expat at the airport, it is important to remain calm, compliant and be respectful to the law enforcement officers. Whatever the case may be, a person has a right to contact his/her embassy. The embassy that was contacted will offer assistance in providing a list of lawyers in Abu Dhabi or Dubai and information about the legal process in the UAE and help in relaying the situation to family members. However, the embassy cannot provide legal representation under any circumstances.
Police may detain a person for 48 hours to conduct investigation, with the possibility of a one-week extension if the investigation could not be completed. The Public Prosecution decides whether the case will be pursued. If the prosecution does not close the case, they may require bail for release or another 21 days of detention can be decided; in any case, until the case is final, the passport of the person of interest will be apprehended.
It is important to indicate a lack of time limit for a case to be heard by a judge at the Court of First Instance. The timeframe usually depends on the case, workload, and time of the year –i.e. Ramadan can delay the process.
The legal process in the UAE is completely Arabic, meaning all the evidence has to be translated and proceedings will be conducted in Arabic. The only exception to this in the UAE are the Dubai International Financial Centre Courts (DIFC) and Abu Dhabi Global Market Courts (ADGM) where the jurisdiction is common law but they do not have the jurisdiction to take criminal law cases.
The criminal justice system in the UAE involves the Court of First Instance, Court of Appeal that decides on the challenged Court of First Instance cases–challenge must be filed within 15 days of the date of the judgement – and Federal Supreme Court that reviews –challenge must be filed within 30 days of the date of the judgement – whether the Court of Appeal properly applied the law.
The Federal Supreme Court acts as a first instance court when the criminal case directly affects the interests and national security of the UAE. In Dubai, there is a separate Supreme Court.
The price range of legal services depends on the quality and resources of the lawyers, and lawyers in Abu Dhabi charge slightly less than lawyers in Dubai. As soon as you are available to request legal representation, asking for a reputable and trustworthy legal professionals can make all the difference.
Download our Guide now to learn more about the legal process in the UAE, as well as how to recover lost funds through legal procedures!