The UAE recently announced that it will no longer take people to court for 28 crimes. Instead, offenders will get fined on the spot.
Among the downgraded offenses is one that affects eating in public during Ramadan. Previously, anyone caught consuming food in public during fasting hours would automatically be referred to court with a risk of jail time (one month) and a maximum fine of 2,000 dirhams ($544).
The latest ruling doesn't mean the offense is no longer considered a crime but scales back its legal consequences. The UAE is not the only country that enforces the public eating ban during Ramadan. Several Muslim-majority countries in the region do so as well including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait.
The latest move came after an order was issued by the country's Attorney General Dr. Hamad Al Shamsi earlier this month. The ruling aims to "speed up procedures and take the pressure off the country’s legal system."
The order will apply to all emirates except Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah, which issue their own directive orders. Cases involving the offenses listed under the latest ruling were previously assessed on a case-by-case basis by the presiding judge.
According to The National, "the order allows prosecutors of a certain rank to issue a judgment similar to a court’s verdict and issue fines of about half the amount a court would have imposed in some cases."
After a verdict is issued, an accused person has a week to either accept or reject a judicial order. In case of rejection, both parties can then request to have the case taken to court.
Other offenses that have been "downgraded" to just fines include traffic crimes, insulting others, animal abuse, burning someone's property, damaging or uprooting a plant, overstaying a visa and obstructing justice.
News of the ruling divided opinions
Some people were happy with the new order, saying it'll benefit the country's legal system. However, many also criticized the downgrading of crimes especially those related to all forms of animal abuse.
In a statement to Stepfeed, Amal, a UAE-based animal rights activist questioned this specific issue saying:
"This sends the wrong message to people. You abuse an animal and simply pay a fine for it, that's just not enough. I hope this is reconsidered because we need strict laws that prevent cases of torture and abuse."
"I heard that the legal system will be viewing individual cases when it comes to animal abuse cases and then deciding on whether they need to be referred to court. I hope that's the case," she added.
Under the new ruling "torturing, abusing, causing exhaustion or not providing the correct care to a pet or an animal entrusted to a person," results in an immediate fine of 1,000 dirhams ($272).
A similar criminal order was passed in Dubai in 2017
Two years back, Dubai downgraded minor crimes in a similar manner, issuing a criminal order covering 11 misdemeanors. In a statement to The National, Omar Alomar, an Emirati lawyer, said that the change was a success in Dubai.
"This procedure helped free court rooms in Dubai when it started executing its criminal order and it gave judges more time to focus on cases of more importance," he explained.
The lawyer believes that applying a similar ruling across the UAE would hugely benefit both defendants and the country's legal system.
"As a lawyer, I believe it is in the benefit of the offender to be fined in a quick and just procedure instead of spending weeks in court. The diversity of the UAE’s residents contributes to an increased number of crimes committed, which causes courts to be busy, but with decisions like the criminal order, the workload on courts will lighten," he added.