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Overview of Criminal Law System in the UAE

Published on : 20 Dec 2023

Criminal Law System in the UAE

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) boasts a criminal law system that is a unique blend of Islamic law, or Sharia, and modern civil law principles. This system is designed to address a wide range of criminal offenses, ensuring order and justice within the diverse and dynamic society of the UAE. At the core of the UAE's criminal law system is the Penal Code, a comprehensive legal document that outlines various criminal offenses, their classifications, and corresponding penalties. This code is influenced by Islamic law principles, reflecting the cultural and religious values of the nation.

The Sharia Influence in UAE’s criminal law is derived from the Quran and Hadith (teachings of Prophet Muhammad). It plays a significant role in shaping the UAE's criminal justice system. Sharia principles are particularly prominent in matters such as family law, morality offenses, and issues related to personal status.

In UAE as per Article 45 of the UAE constitution, the Federal Judiciary is one of the five federal authorities of the UAE Government. It incorporates the federal Supreme Court, federal courts, and Public prosecution. It is managed by the federal Supreme Court, the highest judicial expert in the UAE.

The UAE's legal system is a federation of seven emirates, each with its own local laws and regulations. While federal laws, including the Penal Code, apply across the nation, individual emirates may have specific regulations and enforcement mechanisms. This decentralized approach allows for tailored legal practices while maintaining a cohesive national framework.

Structure of the judicial system

The legal structure in the UAE works in two system. The federal Judiciary is managed by the Federal Supreme Court the highest judicial authority in the UAE and the local judicial departments at the local government level. At the federal level, the Ministry of Justice directs courts and prosecution departments across the UAE. It appoints judges and licenses attorneys, experts, and legal translators.


Articles 94 to 109 of the UAE's Constitution depict the general principles of these two systems and leave the details to the discretion of local legal authorities. Each of the seven emirates maintains the right to decide either to participate in the Federal Judiciary or to maintain its own local judicial framework. The emirates of Ajman Fujairah, Sharjah, and Umm Al Quwain follow the federal judicial system.

However, at the local level, the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department in Abu Dhabi, Dubai Courts in Dubai, and RAK Courts in Ras Al Khaimah keep up with their own independent judicial departments, with jurisdiction in matters that were not relegated to the Federal Judiciary with the Constitution.


Article 105 of the Constitution permits by federal law, for all or a part of a local emirate court's jurisdiction to be alluded to the federal courts of first instance. Nonetheless, it isn't workable for a local emirate court to take jurisdiction away from the federal court.

Law Enforcement:

Law enforcement in the UAE is carried out by both federal and local police forces. Each emirate has its own police department responsible for maintaining public order and investigating crimes within its jurisdiction. Coordination between these entities ensures a unified approach to law enforcement across the country.

Legal Processes

Criminal acts start with a police investigation which is transferred to the prosecutor's office within 48 hours of recording a grievance. The prosecutor will then hear and archive statements from witnesses to decide whether charges will be squeezed or dropped, which should be finished 14 days after receiving the case from the police. When the prosecutor has decided if charges will be squeezed, the parties can proceed with recruiting a lawyer. All lawyers should be authorized to practice law and should be endorsed by an authority deed notarized by a notary public to try the case.

Specialized Courts:

The UAE has established specialized courts to address specific legal matters. For instance, the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Courts handle cases related to financial transactions and certain criminal offenses within the DIFC jurisdiction. These specialized courts contribute to the efficiency and expertise of the legal


Federal laws characterize the conditions where appeals against judgments by the local judicial authorities in penal, civil, commercial, and other cases may be made before the federal courts. The Constitution explains that there are a few disputes that must be heard at a federal level by the Federal Supreme Court and not at a local or emirate level. These are mentioned in Articles 99 and 102 of the Constitution.

Application of Technology:

In recent years, the UAE has embraced technological advancements to enhance its criminal law system. From digitizing court processes to implementing smart policing initiatives, technology plays a pivotal role in improving efficiency and transparency within the legal framework.


The criminal law system in the UAE reflects a balance between tradition and modernity, incorporating Islamic principles while embracing contemporary legal practices. With a commitment to justice and order, the UAE continues to evolve its legal system to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing society.


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