The President, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has issued decrees announcing landmark legal reforms, focused on reassuring expats. The reforms are intended to make the lives of UAE-based foreign nationals stress-free by embracing liberal values.
The big-ticket reforms of personal status laws in the country have scrapped certain rules which triggered feelings of uncertainty in millions of expats residing in the UAE. The changes were announced on 7 November 2020 after a comprehensive two-year review of the legal system.
Reforms to Facilitate a Supportive Atmosphere for Expats
The modifications to the legal system will boost the confidence of foreigners already working in the UAE, or planning to shift there. The issues addressed in these reforms call on what is important for expat families keen on making this country their home.
In recent years, the UAE has been ushering changes to create a supportive atmosphere for expatriates so that they stay in the country for a longer period and work for its betterment.
Already, Dubai has positioned itself as one of the best places in the world to lead a retired life, provided you meet certain financial requirements. Gearing up for the post-oil economy, the city is looking ahead to draw people who are high in skills as well as cash. Cities like Abu Dhabi and Sharjah are not far behind.
As part of its continuing effort to usher progressive values in the country, the Government is looking to enhance the welcome factor for expatriates by modernising society through instruments such as education and women’s rights, and liberal civil laws. It is expected that expats who wish to settle down in the UAE will feel encouraged by these steps.
Let us briefly discuss these reforms to understand their implications on the lives of UAE residents.
Expat populations will now be allowed to follow the laws of their home countries for issues regarding wills and inheritance. In other words, if an expat passes away, their assets can be managed in light of the laws of the country which they belong to. But if the deceased has left a will, it will take precedence. The reforms will promote financial stability among foreign investors in the UAE and make the country a more attractive business destination. Job seekers and professionals will gain as a result.
Decriminalisation of Alcohol
Alcohol consumption without a license has been decriminalised. Prior to this, a person found in possession of alcohol was liable to face a criminal case if they were found violating another law. But the changes do not mean one has the liberty to drink at any age and at any place. To drink legally, one must be at least 21 years old and they must consume alcohol only at licensed businesses or in private.
Regarding live-in relationships, the new legal regime gives the nod to non-married couples to share accommodation. Though restrictions on such relationships were generally not enforced, the threat of legal action on residents sharing households has always loomed in the background.
The purview of legal amendments includes divorce and separation of assets. Previously, couples getting divorced could choose between sharia law and the laws of their home country (if the couple were from different countries, then the law of the husband’s home country would apply). The new reforms mandate that the laws of the country where the wedding took place will apply.
For suicide attempts and self-harm, a punitive law was in place, which has now been repealed. People facing the charge of harming themselves will be provided with mental health treatment. But abetment of suicide continues to be a punishable offence.
The reforms have recognised long-standing complaints of women regarding violence. The changes have done away with the leniency to honour crimes which allowed male relatives to get away with lighter punishment for harming a female under the pretext of protecting the family’s reputation. Heinous attacks that were punished lightly earlier will now be adjudicated as per the penal code.
There is no need for Good Samaritans to hold back any more. Residents who end up harming others while trying to help them have a reason to smile as the altered law won’t hold them accountable in any way. For example, a person who tried to help a victim who died later, by administering CPR, could technically be held accountable for the death under an earlier clause. The reforms will nullify this clause.
Reforms for a Better Future
The legal modifications will go a long way in convincing expats about the merits of staying in the UAE by creating a social atmosphere that caters to their aspirations and matches their way of life. The presidential decrees will contribute towards creating a better future by laying the framework for a modern UAE that is strong, prosperous and economically advanced.
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