Lawyers: addicts need help not jail
Legal professionals call for change in law
A group of UAE lawyers are calling on courts to send drug addicts to rehab rather than jailing them.
Currently, the minimum sentence in the UAE for a person convicted of possessing drugs is four years in prison.
Judges do have the power to refer Emiratis to rehab, however the lawyers said that in most cases they use prison instead as a punitive tool. Expats cannot be sent to rehab, so automatically face jail.
Yesterday, a group of lawyers in Abu Dhabi spoke to the media at court in a bid to raise awareness on the issue.
They said the practice of jailing drug addicts can ruin lives, as well as rip families apart and irreparably damage a person’s reputation. They said it also pushes some drug addicts towards a life of crime as they spend their time in custody mixing with criminals.
The lawyers are calling for an amendment to current anti-narcotics laws that says offenders should no longer face prison sentences. They want authorities to consider other methods, such as treating addiction or handing out lesser punishments, such as community service.
According to statistics from Abu Dhabi Criminal Court of First Instance and Appeal courts, three defendants a day apply on average for addiction treatment.
Tariq Al Serkal, a criminal lawyer, said the law should not consider drug offenders as criminal.
“A drug addict is a sick person and he should be treated as such,” he said. “Alternative methods like sending addicts for treatment would be more effective.
“A drug offender could be just an addict, not a criminal, but after locking him up for years he could come out involved in crimes such as stealing and drug dealing.”
Faiza Moussa, a lawyer who deals with drug cases, said jail sentences for addicts were not an effective deterrent.
Moussa said: “Drug addiction is more of a psychological problem. If a person is charged with drug abuse they should be taken right away for monitored periodical treatment pending court ruling instead of keeping them in jail. “Courts should then refer the addicts to rehabs for permanent treatment until they fully rehabilitated instead of sentencing them to jail.” The lawyers added that if people are jailed for drug use they should be separated from other criminals, such as those jailed for murder, drug dealing or theft, as they may learn bad habits. However, Colonel Saeed Abdullah Al Suwaidi, Director General, Anti-Narcotics Federal Directorate General at the Ministry of Interior, said the law as it stands aims to make offenders reform. However, he added concerned authorities in his department investigate drug abuse cases individually, taking into account the offender’s age and reasons for consuming drugs, their relationship with family and if they are willing to reform through treatment and other measures before their cases are referred to public prosecution.