Criminal Law

Those subjected to criminal proceedings in the UAE can find the system intimidating and overwhelming, particularly those who do not understand Arabic.

The Federal Law No. 35 of 1992 as amended, specifies the procedures for criminal cases in the UAE. It comprises a set of rules that describe the methodology and procedures for criminal investigation, the trial of accused, rendering judgement, conditions for appealing judgement at upper courts and the enforcement of judgement.


As per Article 7 of the Criminal Procedures Law, as amended, Public Prosecution has exclusive jurisdiction to initiate and prosecute criminal proceedings. It also has the authority to track it until a final judgement is rendered.


Public Prosecution is part of the judicial body. It assumes the authority of investigation and imposing charges, as well as referring the accused person to the competent court if his involvement in the crime is proven.


It also undertakes issues regarding the surrender of criminals and its follow-up in accordance with the international conventions, in cooperation with International Criminal Police.


However, in some cases as listed in Article 10 of the same Law, written or verbal complaint by the victim or his legal representative are necessary for filing a criminal action. These instances include:

  • theft, breach of trust and the concealment of the proceeds thereof, if the victim is a spouse of the perpetrator or one of the perpetrator’s ascendants or descendants and the proceeds are not seized judicially or administratively or encumbered by a lien in favour of another person

  • refusal to deliver a minor to or taking the minor away from the authority of the minor’s custodian

  • insult, slander and other crimes as specified by the law.


Provided, in the above cases the complaint will not be accepted after three months since the victim knew about the crime and the party who committed a crime, unless otherwise provided by the law.


If the accused was caught red-handed, the complaint may be submitted to any public authority officer (i.e. police officer) attending the scene of the incident.


If there is more than one victim in the crime, a complaint from one of them is enough to initiate a criminal action.


If more than one person was accused of a crime, and the complaint was filed against one of them, it also applies to the other accused.


Where the victims are less than 15 years old or mentally challenged, or if the crime was committed against their property, the complaint shall be submitted by their legal guardian.

In case of a conflict of interest between the victim and his representative or if the victim has nobody to represent him, the public prosecutor will act for him.

The public prosecution carries out the investigation in Arabic.


In case the accused, the litigating parties, the witnesses or others whose statements are deemed critical by the public prosecutor do not know Arabic, the prosecution may seek the help of an interpreter after taking the oath.

Lapse of criminal actions

A criminal action lapses if the victim withdraws his complaint. In case there are multiple victims, a criminal action would lapse when all victims who submitted the complaint withdraw the complaint.

In criminal cases where more than one person is accused, withdrawal of the complaint against one of them takes effect for the others as well.

If the victim dies after submitting a complaint, the right of withdrawal passes to his legal heirs.

The criminal case also lapses with the death of the accused, issuance of a final judgement, withdrawal of legal action by the party which has the right to do so, issuance of an amnesty or repeal of the law which penalises such acts.

Criminal cases also lapse after 20 years in felonies (serious crimes) punished by death sentences, 10 years in all other felonies, 3 years in misdemeanour and 1 year in violations.

Useful links


Tracking crimes and collection of evidence

Judicial officers from different government departments have the authority to inspect crimes and collect evidence. These include judicial officers from the Police Department, the Public Prosecution and the Criminal Courts.

In addition, according to Article 32 of the Criminal Procedures Law, various other persons are authorised to gather evidence in criminal investigations. They include: 

  • officers of the armed forces

  • border police

  • coastguards

  • immigration officers

  • municipalities' inspectors and inspectors of the Ministry of Health and Prevention.


Role of police and Public Prosecution

The role of police is to safeguard the public, take initial statements from complainants and witnesses, arrest suspects, carry out investigations and execute orders from the Public Prosecution to assist in the investigation process.

Criminal actions in the UAE commence with filing a complaint with the local police in the jurisdiction where the offence was committed.

During the investigation, police may take the statements of any parties involved. Local police usually refer the matter to the prosecutor's office within 48 hours of the filing of the complaint.

The Public Prosecution should question the accused within 24 hours and then order either his arrest or release as per Article 47 of the law.


Rights and obligations of individuals

The UAE's judicial system respects the dignity of people. The criminal procedural law presumes that an accused is innocent until proven guilty. Therefore, it observes certain procedures when dealing with criminal cases. They are:

  • No criminal penalty may be imposed on anyone until his guilt is proved according to the law.

  • No one may be arrested, searched, detained or imprisoned except under the circumstances and conditions mentioned in the law.

  • Detention or imprisonment may only take place in places designated for that purpose and for the period specified in the warrant issued by the competent authority.

  • Law enforcement authorities such as police may not enter into any place of residence except under the circumstances specified in this law or in case of a request for assistance from the resident who could be under a serious threat to his life or property.

  • Whoever comes to know about the occurrence of a crime that the public prosecution can file a criminal action against, without a complaint or a request, must report it to the public prosecution or judicial officers.

  • Anyone who witnesses the offender committing a felony or misdemeanour should hand him over to the nearest public authority without the need for an arrest warrant.

  • The accused can ask the court to compensate him for the prejudice suffered due to the harmful accusation made by the victim or the accuser.


Rights to an attorney

Anyone accused of a felony (or a serious crime) punishable by a death sentence or life imprisonment may have a lawyer to defend him at the trial stage.

If the accused did not appoint a lawyer, the court shall provide him with a lawyer whose fees are to be incurred by the state, as provided by the law.

The accused in a felony punished by provisional imprisonment may also ask the court to provide him with an attorney in his defence, after verifying his financial inability to hire a lawyer.


Investigation and arrest of the convict

The judicial officer, upon his arrival at the crime scene (or where a person is caught red-handed) shall prevent people present at the scene from leaving it or going away until a report is drafted. The officer can also immediately call upon anyone who may have any clarification about the incident to give his statement.

The judicial officer may order the arrest of the accused present at the scene of the incident with sufficient evidence of his perpetration of the crime under the circumstances mentioned in Article 45 of the law.

If the accused is not present, the judicial officer may issue an arrest warrant, which has to be stated in the report. The arrest warrant should be enforced by one of the public authority officers.

The judicial officer should hear the statements of the accused immediately after his arrest. If the accused does not present anything that substantiates his innocence, he should be sent to the relevant public prosecution within 48 hours. The Public Prosecution shall question him within 24 hours and then order either his arrest or release.


Search of persons and residences

The judicial officer may search the accused under circumstances where his arrest is allowed as per the law and the accused may be frisked for what might be on his body, clothes or belongings from the things related to the crime or required for the investigation.

If the accused is a female, a female assigned by the judicial officer should carry out the search after taking an oath. The witnesses attending the inspection should also be females.

Defendant's home may not be searched without a search warrant from the public prosecution unless the defendant was caught red-handed and with strong hints that the defendant was hiding in his house such objects or papers which might uncover the truth.

The search and the seizure of objects and papers should be carried out in the manner specified by the law.