criminal law


January 25, 2023



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The UAE is a global destination for millions of expats, who come from all walks of life, with varying cultures, religions, beliefs and way of life.

In order to make UAE a truly a globalized modern nation, many reforms have been introduced. One of the reforms introduced by the UAE Government has been in respect of alcohol. These changes were brought about initially by Federal Decree Law No. 15 of 2020, which amended the erstwhile Penal Code (Federal Law No. 3 of 1987), and then consolidated and re-affirmed under the new Penal Code, called the Federal Decree Law No. 31 of 2021 On the Issuance of Crimes and Penalties Law.

Legal Reforms Introduced

The key legal reforms introduced in respect of alcohol in the UAE are as follows.

  1. There are no punishments imposed if you are consuming alcohol in cases and locations permitted under the applicable law. This is unlike the previous position where a license was required for personal consumption of alcohol. That said, it is important to note that each Emirate is entitled to issue its own laws to regulate the use, circulation, trading and possession of alcohol (Article 363/1 of the new Penal Code). Accordingly, if an Emirate has banned the consumption of alcohol in its Emirate, such rule will supersede any general permission under the Penal Code.

  2. Any possession, manufacturing, promotion or selling of alcohol requires a licencse from the competent authorities. No license or violating the terms of the license could be punishable with imprisonment and / or fines of up to AED 500,000 (Article 363/2 of the new Penal Code).

  3. The legal age to drink alcohol is 21 years (Article 363/4 of the new Penal Code).

  4. Any person who offers alcohol to a person who is under 21 years or who incites such person to drink or who purchases it to give it to such person, he will be punished with imprisonment for a maximum 1 years and / or fines of up to AED 100,000. However, if the accused had verified the age of the person to be 21 (based on an official document), then there is no crime (Article 363/4 of the new Penal Code).

  5. While there may be general permission to consume alcohol without a license, alcohol is not permitted to be consumed in a public place or in unauthorized location. Any person who violates this rule or is found in a state of intoxication in a public place or causes trouble to a third person or public disturbance while drunk will be punished with imprisonment. The punishments include imprisonment for a period not exceeding 6 months and fines up to AED 100,000 or either of these penalties (Article 363/3 of the new Penal Code).

  6. It is also worth noting that drinking and driving is strictly prohibited. Pursuant to the Federal Law Number 21 of 1995 concerning Traffic and its amendments (“Traffic Law”), driving in UAE under the influence of alcohol or any other narcotic substances is punishable by the law. Pursuant to Article 49 (6) of the Traffic Law, Driving or attempting to drive a vehicle on the road while under the effect of alcoholic drinks or anesthetic substances and the like will be sentenced to imprisonment and/or to a minimum fine of AED 25,000.
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