Understanding the Criminal Process in UAE: Insights into Dubai Criminal Court System

Rules for criminal investigations, trials, rendering judgments, appealing judgments and enforcing judgments

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Pavitra Shetty

Published on July 4, 2024, 13:38:53


UAE Criminal Process, Dubai Criminal Court System, UAE, Dubai, Criminal cases in UAE

Federal Law No. 35 of 1992, as amended, outlines the procedures for criminal cases in the UAE. This law includes rules for criminal investigations, trials, rendering judgments, appealing judgments and enforcing judgments.

Filing a Complaint

To start a criminal case in the UAE, the victim must file a complaint against the offender at the police station. This complaint should detail the incident and the sequence of events related to the criminal offence. The complaint can be submitted either in writing or as an oral statement, which will be recorded in Arabic and signed by the complainant. It must be filed at the police station with jurisdiction over the location where the offence occurred.
According to Article 10 of the Criminal Procedures Law, certain cases require a written or verbal complaint from the victim or their legal representative to initiate a criminal action. These cases include:
* Theft, breach of trust and concealment of proceeds if the victim is a spouse, ascendant, or descendant of the perpetrator, and the proceeds are not judicially or administratively seized or encumbered by a lien in favour of another person.
* Refusal to deliver a minor or taking a minor away from their custodian.
* Insult, slander, and other specified crimes.
Complaints must be filed within three months of the victim becoming aware of the crime and the perpetrator unless otherwise stated by law. If the accused is caught red-handed, a complaint can be submitted to any public authority officer at the scene. A complaint from one victim is sufficient to initiate a criminal action, and a complaint against one accused applies to all involved.
For victims under 15 years old or mentally challenged, the complaint must be submitted by their legal guardian. In conflicts of interest or if the victim lacks representation, the public prosecutor will act on their behalf.

Witness Testimony

The complainant can call upon witnesses to support their case during the police investigation. Similarly, the accused will be contacted by the police to provide their statement and may also suggest witnesses who can testify in their favour.

Police Investigation

After receiving the statements from both parties, the police will refer the complaint to the relevant departments, such as electronic crimes or forensic medicine. Once the investigation is complete, the case is referred to the public prosecution if a criminal offence is established under the UAE Penal Code (Federal Law No. 3 of 1987).

Conducting Investigations

The Public Prosecution conducts investigations in Arabic. If any involved party does not know Arabic, an interpreter may be used after taking an oath.

Lapse of Criminal Actions

A criminal action lapses if the victim withdraws their complaint. For multiple victims, all must withdraw for the action to lapse. Withdrawal of a complaint against one accused also applies to others involved. If the victim dies, their legal heirs can withdraw the complaint.
Criminal cases lapse upon the death of the accused, issuance of a final judgment, withdrawal of legal action by the entitled party, issuance of an amnesty, or repeal of the penalising law. Specific timeframes include 20 years for felonies punishable by death, 10 years for other felonies, 3 years for misdemeanours, and 1 year for violations.

Tracking Crimes and Evidence Collection

Judicial officers from various government departments, including police, public prosecution and criminal courts, are authorised to inspect crimes and collect evidence. Other authorised personnel include officers of the armed forces, border police, coastguards, immigration officers and municipal and health inspectors.

Role of Police and Public Prosecution

The police safeguard the public, take initial statements, arrest suspects, conduct investigations and execute Public Prosecution orders. Criminal actions begin with filing a complaint with the local police in the jurisdiction where the offence occurred. Police refer the matter to the prosecutor's office within 48 hours, and the Public Prosecution must question the accused within 24 hours, deciding on arrest or release as per Article 47 of the law.
Under Article 7 of the Criminal Procedures Law, the Public Prosecution has exclusive jurisdiction to initiate and prosecute criminal proceedings. It oversees the process until a final judgment is rendered.
As part of the judicial body, the Public Prosecution investigates crimes, imposes charges, and refers accused individuals to court if their involvement is proven. It also handles the surrender of criminals per international conventions and works with Interpol.

Rights and Obligations of Individuals

The UAE judicial system presumes the accused is innocent until proven guilty. It follows these procedures:
* No criminal penalty is imposed until guilt is proven according to the law.
* No one is arrested, searched, detained, or imprisoned except under legal circumstances.
* Detention or imprisonment occurs only in designated places for the specified period in the warrant issued by the competent authority.
* Law enforcement may only enter residences under specified circumstances or at the resident's request in serious threats.
* Crimes must be reported to the public prosecution or judicial officers.
* Witnesses of crimes should hand over the offender to the nearest public authority without an arrest warrant.

Rights to an Attorney

Anyone accused of a felony punishable by a death sentence or life imprisonment has the right to a lawyer for defence during the trial. If the accused does not appoint a lawyer, the court will provide one at the state's expense. The accused in a felony punishable by provisional imprisonment may also request a court-appointed attorney if they cannot afford one.

Investigation and Arrest Procedures

Upon arriving at a crime scene, a judicial officer can prevent people from leaving until a report is drafted and can call upon witnesses for statements. The officer may order the arrest of the accused if sufficient evidence exists. If the accused is not present, an arrest warrant can be issued. The officer must immediately take the accused’s statement and refer them to the Public Prosecution within 48 hours. The Public Prosecution must then question the accused within 24 hours and decide on arrest or release.

Search of Persons and Residences

Judicial officers can search the accused under lawful circumstances and can frisk them for items related to the crime. If the accused is female, the search must be conducted by a female designated by the officer, with female witnesses present. A search of the accused’s home requires a warrant from the Public Prosecution unless the accused is caught red-handed and there is strong evidence of concealed items or papers. Searches and seizures must comply with legal procedures.

Legal Fees

There are no fees for filing a complaint with the police. However, if the complainant hires an attorney, legal fees will apply.

Structure of the UAE Court System

The Dubai criminal court can imprison, fine and acquit accused persons. Proceedings are conducted in Arabic, and all documents must be officially translated into Arabic. The court system comprises three levels:
* Court of First Instance
* Court of Appeal
* Court of Cassation (final appeal court)
Misdemeanour cases in the Court of First Instance are heard by a single judge, while felony cases are heard by three judges.

Attendance and Hearings

Accused individuals must appear in court if the charges carry a prison sentence. Victims are not required to attend and may have legal representatives appear on their behalf. The trial starts with the judge reading the charges and asking the accused to plead. If the accused denies the charges, further hearings will be scheduled. Failure to appear can result in a judgment in absentia.

Pleadings and Judgments

Both parties can file written memoranda outlining their claims and defences and present evidence through witness testimonies. Hearings typically occur every 2-3 weeks. The court may appoint an expert to review the technical aspects of the case. Once all evidence is presented, the court will deliver a judgment. There is a right of appeal to the Court of Appeal and subsequently to the Court of Cassation.

Tracking Crimes and Evidence Collection

Judicial officers from various government departments, including police, public prosecution and criminal courts, are authorised to inspect crimes and collect evidence. Other authorised personnel include officers from the armed forces, border police, coastguards, immigration officers and municipal inspectors.
The criminal process in the UAE can be complex, particularly for non-Arabic speakers. This overview provides a foundational understanding for those involved in criminal complaints or proceedings. Despite differences from other jurisdictions, fundamental rights such as the right to defence and appeal are upheld in the UAE legal system.
For further information or to inquire about a case, you can visit the Judicial Department - Abu Dhabi. Here is the link --https://www.adjd.gov.ae/sites/eServices/EN/Pages/CaseStudyEnquiry.aspx.

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