The pace of legal reform in the UAE is quickening, as authorities seek to curb bureaucracy and tackle petty crime, according to a prominent Emirati lawyer.
Essam Al Tamimi told Arabian Business that significant progress has been made to refresh antiquated laws and create a legal system appropriate for a 21st century UAE.
The founder of Tamimi & Company, one of the oldest and largest law firms in the country, noted that reform has taken years in the past, but now the process has become streamlined and authorities are more willing to make changes.
“Progress is speeding up a lot, decision makers are extremely receptive to change,” Al Tamimi stated.
“We still have a lot to do, but the authorities are dynamic; they are interested in change, they hate bureaucracy and they are empowering people under them to make changes, too.”
One example of how UAE laws are being adapted for the 21st century is through the country’s new approach to “petty crimes”, such as kissing and cuddling in public or making rude gestures while driving.
Last month, a British tourist was detained at Dubai airport for having made a rude gesture at another motorist during a previous trip to the emirate. It has been reported that he faces jail, but Al Tamimi said such cases cost time and money to process and clog up the courts system.
Certain behaviour will not be completely decriminalised, Al Tamimi said in an interview, because the UAE cherishes its traditions and wants others to respect them too.
However, he said the authorities have introduced ways of preventing such cases from going to court. For example, Law Number 1 of 2017 allows the Public Prosecution to settle a petty crime with a fine, rather than referring the matter to court.
This law went virtually unreported in the UAE earlier this year; nonetheless, it is expected to improve public perceptions of how such crimes are dealt with, and cut the costs of stringing out the case.
Al Tamimi says that, today, 95 percent of petty crimes are settled over the counter by way of a fine.
“Law enforcers are no longer focussing on running after somebody who has given a rude gesture to somebody else. They are focussing on the bigger crimes and overall security of the community,” he said.
“People don’t want to lose their culture and tradition, but at the same time they don’t want people to suffer for something they either did not know about or did by mistake.”
Other UAE laws undergoing reform including construction laws, which have been updated to give more protection to off-plan investors; litigation laws, which are broadening to make way for arbitration – a fast-growing method of settling disputes out of court – and new laws to regulate technology, e-commerce and social media.
“They [decision makers] are hungry for the best technology, the best business practices, the best procedures throughout the UAE – I really sense that here in the community,” Al Tamimi said.
“People are digesting the fact that with such huge advances in IT and other technologies across the world, we are actually on the curve of change.”
He added: “Things are not going to happen in 15 years in the same way they do now, whether it’s your banking transactions, applying for a licence or shopping in the mall.
“There is a very good understanding in the community here that we are on the curve of change and [the UAE] wants to be a part of that.”