‘New drug penalties will allow addicts to get help’
Reduction in sentencing also saves money, say legal experts
Changes to UAE drugs laws will cut the prison population, save the government money and reduce the number of families robbed of their fathers and sons by narcotics, legal experts have said.
Lawyers were speaking after amendments to the country’s laws will see judges given the discretion to jail those convicted of drug possession for a minimum of two years instead of four, as originally laid down under the 1995 penal laws.
Drug possession will also be downgraded to a misdemeanour instead of a felony, though it remains unclear whether convicts will escape deportation, which is currently ordered in almost all drug cases.
Under the new law, the Attorney General will also have the power to send an Emirati offender to a rehabilitation centre without the case going to court. This will be after seeking advice from police and prosecutors. Community service is also now an option.
Leading Abu Dhabi criminal lawyer Ali Al Abadi told 7DAYS that the changes are pragmatic.
He said the government spends a great deal of money on feeding and caring for inmates and sometimes their families as well. He also said it could allow minor offenders to keep their jobs.
Al Abadi added: “If someone is jailed for only two years, made to pay a fine or does community work, the government would cut their expenditure and would retain the services of these people, as some work for government departments. “Drug addicts are spending many years in jail and away from their families, making their children suffer as a result.”
Al Abadi also suggested some users never overcome their habit in jail.
A series of recent cases in the Dubai and Abu Dhabi courts have cast light on drug smuggling in prisons.
In April, nine men went on trial at Abu Dhabi Criminal Court accused of offering a guard Dhs20,000 to help them smuggle hashish and tramadol, along with mobile phones, into Al Wathba Prison.
And last July a carpenter who worked at Dubai Central Prison in Al Awir was found guilty of smuggling tramadol to an Emirati addict who was inside for drug possession.
Al Abadi said: “Jailing someone for a long time doesn’t necessary mean they will quit drugs.
“But sending them to rehab can help get treatment for addiction, which can reform them and help them become responsible members of the community.”
Mohammed Rashid Al Dhanhani, Head of Bani Yas Prosecution in Abu Dhabi, added: “The new law means all cases involving the illegal use of drugs will be handled by the misdemeanour court and not the criminal court of first instance, as the case has been.
“The new law will be implemented after it has been published in the official gazette and will apply to only new cases and those that have not reached verdict.”
‘If someone is jailed for two years or does community work, the government would cut expenditure’ – Criminal lawyer Ali Al Abadi