We have covered Dubai on a number of occasions with regards to the property market, the economy and to a lesser extent the legal system. However, there is an interesting post on the expat forum regarding the Dubai legal system and what you can expect in the event that you are arrested for any reason.
Before we embark upon a summary of the post in question we need to make clear that while there have been a number of difficult experiences reported at the hands of the Dubai authorities this is not always the case. There are certain procedures, certain criteria and obviously local laws and cultures which need to be appreciated when working and living in the region.
The background to the post
The post was started by a forum member whose friend was “in the wrong place at the wrong time” in Dubai and seemingly felt the full force of the Dubai legal system and the difficulties within.
The example in question revolves around a car accident in which the expat was involved but was in no way at fault. Apparently, in circumstances where it is difficult to confirm instantly what has exactly happened and who may be at fault, all parties involved are taken into custody at the local police station. At this point the potential lawbreakers are placed in one of the various cells available in the police station while the legal system kicks into life.
For non-Dubai nationals the most immediate problem, and potentially most frightening problem, is the lack of understanding. The vast majority of expats in the region are not able to speak Arabic to a level which will allow them to defend themselves and explain situations in great detail. While it is highly advisable to call the British Embassy, or your home country embassy, as soon as possible, there is every chance they will not be able to assist you in the short term.
By law in Dubai you must be seen by the public prosecutor within 48 hours of arrest (unless you’re unfit for interview) although invariably it is a local policeman who will take on this role. It is at this point that you will then be asked to explain exactly what happened, you’re part in the affair and be asked to sign a document which will be in Arabic. You are allowed to demand a translation of the documents into your home language but this will slow down the process and delay your potential release from prison.
Unfortunately, unless you ask for a translation of the document, to which you are entitled, you could effectively be signing away your life and taking the blame for the incident in question. This is the main reason why we see so many Westerners prosecuted in places such as Dubai after signing documents which were effectively confessions, even though they had no idea what they were signing.
When you finally receive a visit from the public prosecutor, which can be any time of the day or night, you will be interviewed and interrogated in Arabic which brings yet more concern and delay. An English translator will always be on hand but many of them will only summarise what has been said and you may not get the overall picture with much of it being lost in translation. After the interview you will be asked to sign your statement, which will again be in Arabic, with a further delay if you request a translation into your mother tongue.
Assuming that you are able to obtain bail at some stage, you will receive a case number and your freedom for a limited period. You are then able to catch up on the progress of your case by calling a central number in Dubai and citing your unique case reference. Obviously, if you break any of the bail regulations then there is a distinct possibility that you will be taken back into custody and held until the case.
Court cases in Dubai
As with the interrogation and interview at the initial stage, the court case will be held in Arabic and while an English translator will be on hand there is again a chance you could lose some information during translation. Even though it can be very frightening and frustrating to be held in a court room listening to a language you are unlikely to understand, you need to respect the Dubai courts as you would in UK, or anywhere else around the world, unless you could make a very difficult situation much worse.
Jail in Dubai
As you might expect from a country which has historically had a very patchy human rights record to say the least, jail time in Dubai is not a “walk in the park”. Cramped conditions, limited access to telephones and a prison shop where such items as crisps, coke, toiletries and phone cards are on hand could be your life for some time. Depending upon the seriousness of the charge you will have limited access to the telephone but this could be for as little as five minutes a week.
As we have covered on a number of other posts, appreciating and respecting the local culture in Dubai is vital if you want to have a trouble-free stay. While the authorities are prepared to turn a “blind eye” to such events as cohabitation by unmarried people, if attention is drawn to the matter, via a complaint or potentially a burglary, they will take action. It is also vital that you restrain yourself when in custody and working your way through the court system because outbursts and constant complaints will not help your situation.
While the case in question may be something which makes good media coverage we have to state that not everybody would experience such difficult situations. However, there is no doubt that the legal system in Dubai is very difficult to understand and can be very slow moving at the best of times. The language problem is something which many people will have difficulty coping with and again highlights the fact that you should at least have a basic grasp of the local culture and local language when moving overseas.
Over the last few months, as the economic downturn has kicked in, we have seen a growing number of cases in which the Dubai authorities have taken action against Westerners who have broken local laws or insulted local cultures – whether on purpose or by accident. There is a feeling that the authorities were fairly understanding when overseas money began to flood into the region but now investors have committed significant funds to Dubai we appear to be seen a tightening of the law and regulatory environment.
However, if you respect local culture and at least learn a basic grasp of the local language there is every chance that your stay in the region should be trouble-free. You have been warned!