criminal law


November 21, 2017



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According to the criminal law in Dubai it is illegal to consume alcohol without a validly issued permit. As per Law on Alcoholic Beverage Control issued in 1972, it is illegal to import, export, manufacture, acquire, drink, supply, sell or offer alcoholic drinks to persons not holding a valid alcohol license issued by the Licensing authority.

Any person found selling, buying or acquiring alcoholic drinks without a valid alcohol license shall be punished under Law on Alcoholic Beverage Control issued in 1972. UAE criminal law provides for punishment by imprisonment for 6 months, fine of five thousand dirhams or both and the court in all cases has the right to keep the possession of such materials with the court.

This applies to all any person without a valid alcohol license including Muslims and non-Muslims and minors irrespective of whether or not they are Expats or Emiratis.

While consumption of alcohol is completely prohibited for Muslims, the laws of Dubai do allow non-Muslims to consume alcohol after obtaining a license from the authorities. Liquor licenses are issued only to non-Muslim persons, Muslims are not issued alcohol licenses. Consumption of alcohol by Muslims is strictly prohibited and punishable as per law.

According to most of the famous criminal lawyers in UAE, there are many cases where residents and tourists have been caught misusing or possessing drugs or other narcotic substances. The most commonly used drug is marijuana. Other drugs like cocaine, Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), hashish and MDMA (Ecstasy) are also prevalent.

Most of the cases handled by the criminal advocates in Dubai are on alcohol and drug consumption. Road rage, domestic violence, brawls, accidents etc. are a few of the issues which Dubai criminal lawyers encounter on a very frequent basis. It is highly recommended that any person charged with issues related to alcohol or drug consumption they avail the services of a criminal lawyer as early as possible, as involvement of any criminal lawyer helps the client to deal with the criminal justice process, knowing what will happen in advance and why. Less surprises in criminal cases means less stress on the client and his family. Knowing the special nature of the criminal cases, which has an impact on the client and his family and sometimes other relatives, big part of the lawyer's task would be to guide the client and to give the trust to his family and other relatives that the legal process will be served by submitting all proper and legal arguments, which would help the investigator and prosecution to understand the case in simplest manner possible.

New Update:

Before the changes affected by Federal Decree-Law No. 15/2020 and subsequently by Federal Decree-Law No. 31/2021 on the Issuance of the Crimes and Penalties Law (the UAE Penal Code), it was illegal to consume alcohol without a valid permit.

According to Article 363, no punishment may be imposed for drinking, possessing, or trading in alcohol in the cases and locations permitted according to applicable legislation. Each Emirate shall have the right to regulate the use, circulation, trading in, and possession of alcoholic beverages.

For the emirate of Dubai, the following rules apply:

  • The consumption of alcohol is no longer a criminal offense;
  • The legal age for consumption of alcohol is determined to be twenty-one (21);
  • Alcohol cannot be consumed in public places that are not licensed to sell alcohol; however, it can be consumed in private places as well as licensed restaurants and bars.

Abu Dhabi's Culture and Tourism Department has announced it has revoked its licensing system for buying alcohol.

  • They have issued a Circular to this effect. It states that the alcoholic beverages license for individuals has been revoked, as residents and tourists in the Emirate will be allowed to buy and possess alcoholic beverages, and are allowed to drink within tourism and hotel establishments, clubs, and independent outlets.
  • Under the Circular, customers have to be at least 21, and the purchase should be for personal use and not for resale.
  • Alcohol should also only be consumed in private homes or licensed areas.

It is also critical to understand that the new changes in the right context, especially, that each emirate has its own rules, and if there is a local law of a given emirate that prohibits the consumption of alcohol then, the said local laws would apply instead of the Federal laws in such instances. For instance, the emirate of Sharjah, has local laws in place that have been in effect for decades which specifically criminalizes the consumption of alcohol in the said emirate and have not been revoked yet.

Federal Decree-Law No. 31/2021 introduces significant changes to fines and penalties related to alcohol-related offenses.

  • Unlicensed Activities: Engaging in activities related to alcoholic beverages without proper licenses or violating licensing terms is prohibited. Offenders can face imprisonment and a fine of up to AED 500,000 or either of these penalties.
  • Public Consumption and Intoxication: Consuming alcoholic beverages in public places or unauthorized locations is prohibited. Being publicly intoxicated or causing disturbances while intoxicated can lead to imprisonment of up to 6 months and a fine of up to AED 100,000 or either of these penalties.
  • Minors and Alcohol: Providing alcoholic beverages to individuals under 21 years of age or encouraging their consumption is prohibited. Purchasing alcohol for minors for the purpose of providing it to them is also prohibited. Offenders can face imprisonment of up to 1 year and a fine of up to AED 100,000 or either of these penalties. Exceptions exist if the age of the person is verified to be 21 or older based on official documents.
  • Consequences of Offenses: Conviction can lead to the confiscation of alcoholic beverages, proceeds, production/transfer equipment, and materials. The location where the offense occurred can be closed. Foreign offenders may be expelled from the country.

Federal Decree Law No. 30 of 2021 On Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances, Effective from January 2, 2022, Amending Federal Law No. 14 of 1994.

Rehabilitation for First-Time Offenders:

  • The law replaces punishment with treatment for initial drug offenders. These offenders are sent to specialized rehab centers. This applies if they are not repeat offenders and is supported by a medical report. The rehabilitation process aims for reintegration through sports, vocational training, and social programs.

Tougher Penalties for Repeat Offenders:

  • There are three levels of penalties for drug use/possession:
    1. First-time offenders: 3 months in jail or a fine of Dh20,000 to Dh100,000.
    2. Second-time offenders (within 3 years): 6 months in jail or a fine of Dh30,000 to Dh100,000.
    3. Third-time offenders: 2 years in jail and a fine of Dh100,000.

Stricter Fines for Inducing/Facilitating Drug Use:

  • Inducing or facilitating drug use carries a penalty of 5 years in prison and a Dh50,000 fine. Aggravated circumstances can lead to increased penalties. If harm is caused to the victim, the penalty is 7 years in prison and a Dh100,000 fine.
  •  In cases of serious harm, the penalty is 10 years in prison and a Dh200,000 fine. If the victim dies, the punishment is either the death penalty or life imprisonment.

Penalties for Managing Drug Consumption Spaces:

  • Managing drug use locations carries penalties of 7 to 10 years in prison and a Dh100,000 fine. Repeat offenders face life imprisonment and a Dh100,000 fine.

Optional Deportation of Expats:

  • Courts have the authority to decide on expat deportation for drug offenses.
  • Tourists with narcotics mixed in food will not face legal action, but the items will be confiscated and destroyed.

Other Changes:

  • Another amendment has expanded the jurisdiction of Abu Dhabi federal courts to exclusively hear cases of promoting drugs, in addition to drug trafficking, regardless of where the crime occurs in the country.

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