Dubai’s criminal justice system

“It’s not that different from the America we had a hundred years ago, after or during the end of the Victorian era,” Hamden said. “While we see globalization, in the cities that define it; still look like a neo-Victorian value system” (qtd. in “They destroyed me”, 2008). The Victorian era was from 1837 to 1901. This is how Dr. Raymond Hamden, a Lebanese-American psychiatrist who works in Dubai courts, describes Dubai’s criminal justice system. He further stated that while it has embraced modernity with high-rise buildings and a very prosperous economy, its criminal justice system is still evolving.

Equal protection before the law generally does not apply to foreigners in criminal courts. Dubai’s phenomenal economic growth is entirely dependent on the active participation of millions of expats, from corporate finance executives to construction and domestic jobs. Emiratis, who account for only 10% of the total residents, are not enough to meet the requirements of “double-digit economic growth” driven by foreign investment, so even court personnel and lawyers are foreigners.

Dubai prides itself on its corporate legal system which is fair and protects foreign investors. However, lawyers deny this fact. In Dubai, the crime of rape is called “forced homosexuality” because UAE law does not recognize assault and rape of men. In this bustling financial center, HIV and homosexuality are taboo and secret. These have led to rampant harassment of gays and foreigners. Those found to be gay and infected with HIV were denied health care benefits, quarantined and faced deportation proceedings.

A Western diplomat familiar with the judicial system said equality exists only in theory, not in practice. It may try very hard to earn a solid reputation for dealing with business claims fairly and quickly, however, it still struggles to balance criminal laws deeply rooted in traditional Islamic and Arab culture with the damage and prejudice of overwhelming foreign residents . Most are non-citizens.

Flogging is not a custom in Dubai. Generally, the government abides by the constitutional prohibition of arbitrary arrest and detention. However, in sensitive criminal cases, solitary detention is permitted so as not to jeopardize the investigation. Diplomatic missions complain that they are not notified when their citizens are arrested and detained.

Defendants can be questioned for days or even weeks without the assistance of legal counsel, as they can only use the services of lawyers after the police investigation is concluded. An acquittal is based on “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” In other jurisdictions a conviction is based on “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt”.

In cases involving homicide, bail is granted after payment of compensation known as “blood money” to the victim’s family. There is no formal bail system. Temporary release of detainees is only possible after depositing money or passports, or by personal guarantees from those who sign the declaration.

It cannot be denied that the criminal justice system in Dubai and other United Arab Emirates cannot or may not be able to cope with changing times. Dubai’s legal system remains a precarious challenge when it comes to legal protections for gays and foreigners, despite being the perfect place for modernism and wealth in the Arab world.

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