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New Alcohol Law U.A.E.

New Alcohol Law U.A.E.

Lawgical with LYLAW and Tim Elliot

12 April 2022

Tim Elliot:  Welcome to Lawgical, the U.A.E.’s first, and the only, as far as we are aware, legal podcast.  My name’s Tim Elliot.  Lawgical comes to you from the Dubai-based legal firm, HPL Yamalova & Plewka.  As ever, the Managing Partner is Ludmila Yamalova.  It’s good to see you.

Ludmila Yamalova:  Good to be here with you, Tim, as always.

Tim Elliot:  Ludmila, we are often in agreement on these podcasts as we discuss the various ramifications of the legal system here in the Emirates.  We are certainly in agreement when we say that a lot has changed legally over the last couple of years or so, not least of which is the change – and you and I were pretty surprised at this – with regard to alcohol sales, purchase, and consumption here in the Emirates.  Alcohol is now under the banner, if you like, of the new crime and punishment law, that is Federal Degree Law Number 31 of 2021.  Essentially, Article 363 of the new law provides each emirate with the authority to regulate consumption, trading, possession of alcohol as it wishes.  It expressly states that under licensed and permitted circumstances – and this is what I’m trying to get to – it is not a crime to drink, possess, or trade alcohol in the U.A.E.

Ludmila Yamalova:  Yes.  Before I delve into the article specifically, I just want to put out a reminder that we have covered the alcohol topic in our podcast in the past, as recently as last year, but things have change since then.  The reason we talked about last year or in the previous podcast was because in 2020 the U.A.E. penal code or criminal law had changed in many significant aspects, one of which was to relax or loosened the provision on alcohol in particular which was previously covered by the penal code and there was some very categorical language, for example, about alcohol in particular and something like alcohol is criminal unless, unless, unless, so the default was that alcohol was a crime unless you are non-Muslim and so on and so forth.  That is how the U.A.E.’s jurisdiction had always been from the beginning, from the inception of the country, until 2020.

Now in 2020, that particular provision, along with a bunch of other provisions in the penal code, had been changed and that’s why we covered this topic last time in our podcast and that was our last discussion.  Some of the language from the previous version of the law had been amended, some had been taken out, so just overall it became a lot more flexible and perhaps the verbiage itself had been scaled down a little bit.

Now, on January 2, 2022, the U.A.E. criminal law changed again.  Now the penal code that we had referred to before that we covered in our previous podcast, that was the law that we called penal code or the criminal law, has now been repealed altogether.  Not only the original law that was amended or repealed, but rather the amendments, including the amendments on alcohol, had also now been repealed.  That law is no more.  We can no longer rely on the citations from the previous criminal law.

Now in place of it, we have a new body of law which is called, as you rightfully said, the new crime and punishment law or Federal Degree Law Number 31 of 2021.  This new law is now the new law that we have to rely on and to cite, not the previous laws.  This now law has a very specific provision on alcohol.  This particular provision is a lot more detailed and a lot more specific than the previous amendment in the previous criminal code which referred to alcohol.  This is why we thought it’s important to now address the new law and the particular provision on alcohol because it does significantly change the previous law and its amendments.

In short, as you said, the overarching theme is that every Emirate has the right to regulate its own alcohol consumption, the trading, and possession as it deems fit.  As long as consumption of alcohol, possession of alcohol, and the trade of alcohol are done under the right licenses and permits, then it is not criminal.  The default is not that alcohol is criminal.  But the presumption is that if you have got the right licenses, you can drink and you can trade and you can possess and such.  As long as it’s done under those circumstances, then basically it is not criminal and therefore the criminal law does not come into effect.

However, if you possess, manufacture, promote, sell, or prepare any kind of alcohol or alcoholic beverages without a license, that is criminal.  Basically, dealing with alcohol without a license is criminal and punishable.  The punishment is a jail term and/or a fine not exceeding 500,000 dirhams, so not insignificant.  This is all under Article 363 of the new law.

Tim Elliot:  It’s also important to note, Ludmila, that the legal age to consume alcohol remains 21.

Ludmila Yamalova:  Yes.  This specific law in Article 363 also reiterates or re-asserts the same condition as before that alcohol under the right licenses and permits is not illegal as long as it is being served or bought or traded by anyone above the age of 21.  That is alcohol how the penal code phrases it.  It is illegal to serve or sell alcoholic beverages to individuals under 21 years of age.  The drinking age, therefore, is 21, although the law does not quite specifically state that.  It just says that anybody who serves or sells alcoholic beverages to anybody who is below 21 is ultimately committing an offense.

This is also interesting because the question arises, what does it mean for those who are under the age of 21?  Are they penalized by this law?  Because the law really seems to only penalize those who are serving alcohol to someone who is under the age of 21 and doesn’t quite address, at least specifically in terms of whether there is a punishment and what type of punishment it would be for someone who is actually consuming alcohol or dealing with alcohol not being the right age, or being 21.  In the case of those who are serving or selling alcoholic beverages to individuals under the age of 21, the punishment is a jail term of up to 1 year and/or a fine of up to 100,000 dirhams.  This is quite significant.

Additionally, as per the same Article 363, the court can confiscate the alcoholic beverages and then seize any financial proceeds as punishment.  The punishment is not only just the jail term and a fine.  Additionally, it is the confiscation of the goods themselves and not just the goods, but also the seizure of the financial proceeds, and that is quite significant.  Finally, depending on the circumstances and the offense, the court may also rule deportation.  This is significant.  As you can see the language of this Article 363 is quite detailed and specific, and the punishment is widely varied, anything from a fine to a jail term of 1 year, and then deportation.  You want to really understand what the law allows and disallows to make sure that you are staying on the right side of the law.

Tim Elliot:  There is some clarity here though, isn’t there?  Because the law clearly sets out if you are appropriately licensed to trade, sell, promote alcohol, that is one side.  If you are licensed and you are over 21, you are allowed to consume alcohol in appropriately licensed premises or at your home.  The public consumption of alcohol, however, is clearly a criminal offense.

Ludmila Yamalova:  Yes.  This is perhaps one of the most notable changes to the wording of the law because there is a provision that clearly states that the public consumption of alcohol is criminal and so is consuming alcohol in unauthorized places and, more importantly, being found in a public place while intoxicated or being drunk is criminal, as is causing noise or disturbance to others while drunk.  The punishment for these types of offenses, and that is being drunk in public, is a jail term of up to 6 months and/or a fine not exceeding 100,000 dirhams.  This, I would suggest, perhaps is one of the more important updates, and this is also one of the reasons why we wanted to do this podcast now is because the law is very new.  It has only been around for a few weeks and this particular provision that penalizes the public consumption of alcohol – at least this level of specificity – did not exist in exist in the previous laws.

Depending on how the authorities wish to apply it, if it is applied strictly, it does have some very serious consequences and an impact on the country and our day-to-day activities and behavior, because let’s face it, if being found in a public place while drunk is criminal, which specifically the law says it is, what do we make of all of these people in the very populous places, in Dubai, for example, who are not within a hotel community but by the beach or marinas where there a lot of licensed restaurants, and you see people that are clearly intoxicated.  What do make of that?  This is the reason we thought it was important to discuss this and to raise awareness, as ignorance of the law is no excuse.  If the authorities start implementing this law more strictly, we might see some real-life changes to some of the behavior that we have seen around Dubai in particular.  It is very popular with a lot of tourists and sometimes tourists come here and get very excited about all the razzle dazzle that Dubai has to offer.  I personally have witnessed plenty of behavior in public that is a little disturbing and that I wouldn’t necessarily want my children to witness.  Be it as it may, if the authorities or if anyone from the public wanted to address this, or to make a point of this, or complain, there is now a specific body of law that they can rely on and the language is clear and the penalties are fairly severe.

Tim Elliot:  Ludmila, I think that pretty much covers what we have seen for alcohol under the U.A.E.’s new crime and punishment law.  Have I missed anything, anything I should be asking?

Ludmila Yamalova:  I guess one is the definition of a public place.  What is public consumption?  Or what is a public place?  I think one clear example that legally we could argue is not public is if alcohol is consumed within hotel premises or in a hotel community that perhaps is not open to the general public.  That arguably would not be considered to be a public place, but a lot of other communities, for example, around the marina where there are a lot of licensed restaurants, and then you come out of those restaurants and you are walking around in what is not a closed or gated community or not part of a hotel community, so is that a public place?  That is one thing that we will have to wait and see how the courts and how the authorities interpret and define a public place.  There are also a number of places, let’s say, along the beach, on the palm, the marina, and along different stretches of beach in Dubai, where again, there are licensed restaurants and sitting on the beach and enjoying your meal and your drink, but there is public walking along the beach and around, so it is not necessarily a closed community either.  Is that a public place?  These are the questions and we will just have to wait and see how the authorities define them.  As further details become available, we will just have to do another followup podcast on this.

Tim Elliot:  That’s another episode of Lawgical, this time the new law, alcohol under the new crime and punishment law, Federal Decree Law Number 31 of 2021.  As ever, our legal expert here on Lawgical was Ludmila Yamalova, the Managing Partner here at Yamalova & Plewka, and as ever, Ludmila, I really appreciate it.  Thank you.

Ludmila Yamalova:  Thank you, Tim.

Tim Elliot:  You can find us at LYLAW on social media, Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, LinkedIn, and we now also have a really easy-to-search library, hundreds of podcasts, all kinds of legal issues covered, and they’re all free to listen to.  If you would like a legal question answered in a future Lawgical episode or you would like to consult with a qualified U.A.E. experienced legal professional, click the Contact button at

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