In Brief: Rights and Duties of a Witness in the UAE

One of the oldest forms of taking evidence in a court of law is by way of producing witnesses. In the UAE, witnesses are governed according to:

  • Federal Decree-Law No. 35 of 2022, on Promulgating the Law of Evidence in Civil and Commercial Transactions (Evidence Law) in civil cases, and
  • Federal Decree-Law No. 38 of 2022 Promulgating the Criminal Procedure Law (Criminal Procedure) in criminal cases.

What is the role of a witness in a court case?

A witness is someone who knows relevant information regarding a case in a court of law, and is called upon to share that information with the court. The statement that a witness gives in a court of law is called a testimony.

It is no news that in order to support a claim in a court of law, the plaintiff or defendant must produce evidence which would prove their claim. The testimony of a witness is a primary source of evidence in court cases, whether civil or criminal.

When is a person informed that he is required to appear in court to give testimony?

As per Evidence Law (Article 74), a witness has the right to be informed at least 24 hours before the scheduled date of hearing of the case. This time is exclusive of the time lost due to distance. Article 173 of the Criminal Procedure also provides for informing the witness at least 24 hours prior to the hearing date.

What details should a person furnish if he is a witness?

A person should disclose the relationship he has with the parties if he is a witness to their case (Article 71, Evidence Law). He will also be required to submit his identity details, such as name, age, profession, residence etc. (Article 89, Criminal Procedure).

Can a witness refuse to appear in court?

A witness can refuse to present himself in court provided he has a reasonable excuse for his absence. Article 75(2) of Evidence Law allows the statement of such a witness to be recorded by the supervising judge at the place where the witness is present. Similarly, Articles 92 and 176 of Criminal Procedure provide that if a witness is sick or excuses himself from appearance in the court for valid reasons, his statement can be recorded at his residence.

What happens if a witness does not adhere to a summons order without a valid excuse?

If a witness absents himself from giving testimony in a court without legitimate excuse, Article 74 of the Evidence Law and Article 174 of the Criminal Procedure impose a fine on the witness. The fine will be imposed again if the witness fails to appear after being fined the first time, and in certain cases may lead to arrest.

Can a witness abstain from answering questions?

A witness can abstain from answering questions that:

  1. Are self-incriminatory [Article 78(3), Evidence Law]
  2. Are irrelevant to the case [Article 78(4), Evidence Law, Article 169(2) Criminal Procedure]
  3. Are against the law, public order or morality [Article 78(4), Evidence Law]
  4. May intimidate the witness or disturb his thoughts [Article 169(3), Criminal Procedure]

Can witnesses claim protection or keep their identity confidential?

As per Article 84 of the Evidence Law, a witness has a right to be protected from harm, and the court may prevent the witness and the testimony from being influenced or intimidated by anyone.

Why is a witness required to take an oath?

Taking oath before delivering a testimony ensures that the witness tells nothing but the truth. It is the duty of a witness to take an oath, as per the law.

In civil cases, oath is administered according to Article 76(4) of Evidence Law, although a witness may abstain from taking oath, provided he has a valid excuse for the same [Article 75(1), Evidence Law].

In criminal cases, witnesses of ages 15 and above are required to take oath in accordance with Article 89 of the Criminal Procedure, and those who are below the specified age will be heard as a matter of guidance without an oath.

On what ground(s) can a witness claim expense?

A witness can claim expenses if his appearance in court disrupted his daily activities, in consonance with Article 85 of Evidence Law. A witness can also claim expenses for their attendance in the court under Article 93 of Criminal Procedure.

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