Tim Elliot: Welcome to Lawgical, the U.A.E.’s first, and still the only, legal podcast. I’m Tim Elliot, and as ever, Lawgical comes to you from the Jumeirah Lakes Towers based Dubai legal firm, HPL Yamalova & Plewka. Here is the Managing Partner, Ludmila Yamalova. Nice to see you.
Ludmila Yamalova: Tim, great to be chatting with you again.
Tim Elliot: Ludmila, this time we’re going to go relatively quickly fire, and we are going to run through a whole raft of new laws, laws that have come into effect over the last, I guess, 12 to 24 months or so. There is no doubt in that time the U.A.E. has introduced an extraordinary number of new legislations and new amendments. We have discussed lots of them on previous episodes of Lawgical, which you can find wherever you find your podcasts. But let’s go through them once again here. Some of them are quite groundbreaking. They are quite exciting in lots of ways. Some of the changes are yet to be understood. But let’s get into the individual pieces of legislation.
I’m going to start with a podcast we did with a guest, I think it must be about five or six months ago now. It was all to do with an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and the law changed here. Well, to say it’s dramatic underplays it.
Ludmila Yamalova: Yes, indeed. That is one law that changed in the last two years twice.
Tim Elliot: Right.
Ludmila Yamalova: The many podcasts and the many discussions we’ve had over the last year and a half were on the back of the previous amendments to the criminal law that was issued in 2020 and that did introduce a number of groundbreaking provisions that we saw being put into practice. Now in November of 2021, which was just a few months ago, the U.A.E. surprised us again by issuing a whole new series of new laws, some of these are amendments to the previous laws and those are brand new laws, and some are laws that are replacing previous laws.
With regard to the penal code or the criminal law, at this time the previous law we discussed, along with its recent amendments, has been repealed altogether. Now there is a brand-new criminal law, and it is now called a crime and punishment law. This law was introduced in November of 2021, but it came into existence in January of 2022.
Just to be clear, this is a law that expressly repeals the previous criminal code and is a brand-new body of law which in relevant terms covers the out-of-wedlock pregnancies, birth certificates, cohabitation, alcohol, and so on and so forth. That is one body of law that has changed twice in the last two years.
Tim Elliot: It was an amazing thing to talk to our guest. The podcast is on the website. We have had law changes and legal changes in the laws pertaining to drugs as well, we have also done on another podcast.
Ludmila Yamalova: Correct. The drug law is another groundbreaking development. This is a new drug law that was again issued in November of 2021 and replaces the previous drug law that had been in existence for many years. This drug law is another example of the U.A.E. continuing to move forward in treating drug offenses. While drugs are still expressly illegal, they are now being treated under this particular drug law with a little more leniency and there is more differentiation between the types of the drugs, who commits them, and the circumstances of the offense.
Tim Elliot: What about in terms of personal status? We have seen a number of changes there, both here in Dubai and something really groundbreaking that’s just happened in Abu Dhabi as well.
Ludmila Yamalova: Yes. With the personal status laws, there is a whole series of laws that apply basically to personal status matters which usually refer to marriages, divorces, custody, inheritance, and such. On that front, in the last two years we have seen various laws that have been amended and introduced in particular for the benefit of, if you will, expats and in particular Muslim expats. For example, there is an option for non-Muslim expats to register wills in the DIFC. The U.A.E. personal status laws have changed, allowing expats to apply, in the cases of divorce, the laws of the country where the marriage took place versus the laws of the U.A.E. being Sharia. There are also laws allowing expats to choose the laws of their own countries for the purposes of inheritance. Then one of the more interesting and another groundbreaking law came out of Abu Dhabi just in December in 2021, setting up a brand-new court and a brand-new registry for non-Muslim expats to get married before a civil registry. It is a civil marriage registry. On the back of that law, there is a new court, the Abu Dhabi Personal Status Court for non-Muslim expats that is being set up for the benefit specifically of non-Muslim expats living or working in Abu Dhabi that will allow them to deal with any kind of personal status matters before this court, and this is an English-speaking court, which is truly a novel development.
Tim Elliot: Also, the laws covering human rights, would I be right in stating that essentially those laws mirror the UN Human Rights Mandate?
Ludmila Yamalova: Exactly, yes. There is also a very specific U.A.E. law on human right. It is almost a copy and paste of the UN Human Rights Mandate. Many do not know about it. But the U.A.E. is not just a signatory to the UN Convention; it also has basically adopted the language of the convention and incorporated it into its own U.A.E. human rights law.
Tim Elliot: One of the other much anticipated changes in laws here in the Emirates was the legal position on bounced cheques. We’ve covered this fairly extensively, but let’s just summarize that, Ludmila.
Ludmila Yamalova: Yes. The commercial and company law has been amended, along with the criminal law that has been amended, that no longer criminalizes bounced cheques. Now bounced checks are no longer criminal. They are purely just commercial instruments. In fact, on the back of that, the Dubai Prosecution has already announced that all those who have been imprisoned or have a criminal case against them for bounced cheques, they will be released and the arrest warrants and cases will be dismissed and cancelled.
Tim Elliot: There are lots of changes to the company law. I know we have covered this extensively. This happened last year, but I guess the standout point really is the removal of the requirement of a local sponsor, a 51% shareholder on mainland companies.
Ludmila Yamalova: This was a much-anticipated law and many perhaps, including myself, did not believe that it would ever come into existence, at least not in our lifetime.
Tim Elliot: Sure.
Ludmila Yamalova: And that is because ultimately it made it a lot more flexible for expats and foreign businesses to run and own businesses in the U.A.E. without the requirement of a local sponsor, which in the past required, as you rightfully said, 51% ownership by an Emirati on mainland. Now basically that law is no more. The default is that anybody can own businesses in the U.A.E. unless, and there will be some sort of exceptions, but they are fairly narrow exceptions. A great development for the U.A.E. business sector.
Tim Elliot: U.A.E. employment law has been under revision. We’ll be uploading a full podcast on all the details, but let’s just outline the main bullet point changes.
Ludmila Yamalova: Yes. This is the employment law that applies to the private sector. It is coming into effect in February of 2022. The law was introduced in November of 2021, and it completely replaced the previous labor law that had been in existence since 1980. This law, among other things, introduces a few very specific provisions, for example, against discrimination and harassment, providing protection for women in the workplace, and prohibiting expressly any form of bullying, harassment, or discrimination on any grounds of religion, sex, ethnicity, or nationality, and so on and so forth. It also introduces different types of employment arrangements and contracts, making it a lot more flexible and more attractive for dynamic employees to come into the U.A.E. and work here under more flexible employment arrangements. It also introduces the concept of minimum wage, which did not exist before, although what that minimum wage is, we do not know yet, but the concept exists.
Tim Elliot: A welcome development. What about in terms of the updates to immigration law?
Ludmila Yamalova: The U.A.E. has been very busy on the immigration front. Over the last year and a half it has introduced a number of laws, circulars, mandates, announcements, ultimately offering different types of visas for different types of members of the community, for professionals, for longstanding residents, for business owners, for students, and for freelancers. All in all, it has become a lot easier, a lot more affordable, and a lot more flexible for different types of professionals, or just residents and retiree visas, for example, as well, and remote working visas. Overall, the U.A.E. is very welcoming and telling the world and showing the world that they are welcoming of those who can contribute to the economy and the society here, and they continue to introduce incentives to attract people to come here and make residency here or build a home here and invest.
Also, another law I did not think would happen in my lifetime, there is a new citizenship law the U.A.E. has now set up. It is now possible to apply for U.A.E. citizenship, not just through inheritance, but basically through just application by virtue your contribution to the community. A very interesting law, and we have seen people receiving citizenship already.
Tim Elliot: In 2021 there were changes in legal attitudes to both cybercrime and data protection as well.
Ludmila Yamalova: Yes. This perhaps is not unexpected given how much publicity and how much importance this particular space has had and has received, if not demanded, around the world. Along with that, the cybercrime law has been changed, again at the end of 2021. In relevant terms, it introduces perhaps even harsher penalties for cybercriminal offenses and for things such as hacking, spreading fake news, and so on. Also the data protection law, perhaps to kind of follow suit on the data protection that has taken so much prominence in Europe and in the EU, the U.A.E. has its own version of it now, as well as other types of law, such as trademark law. There is a brand-new trademark and a brand-new copyright law. Again, these are new laws that expressly repeal, and therefore replace, previous versions of the copyright law and trademark law. Again, given where we are these days, and that is living kind of in the digital world, it was just a matter of time before these laws needed to be updated as well.
Tim Elliot: Last, but certainly not least, we have experienced, we have lived through real changes to the ways that the courts function, and we have talked about this at great length. It is the way we access justice, I guess. Now once the pandemic hit, the courts went online at an incredible rate. Let’s be honest, they’ve just not looked back, have they?
Ludmila Yamalova: No. I think in fact they’re closing the physical doors. They don’t really want to see you anymore. Anytime you try to go visit the court, they say, please submit online, please apply online. As scary as it might have been in the beginning for those who were used to going to the court and seeing judges in person and submitting documents in person, it has been a blessing, I have to tell you. It’s just become so much more efficient, so much more accessible, not just for us legal practitioners, but more importantly for clients. Everything is now online. Everything is visible. There is great transparency. There are ways of following up and, more importantly, there is accountability. In the past, you could have submitted a document to some clerk in the court and then wait for days, if not weeks, to see what happens to it. Now whatever you submit online is immediately registered, and there is now accountability for it. The same with, for example, powers of attorney. In the past you had to be here to give a power of attorney. Now there are different portals and systems through which you can do it remotely. For example, the U.A.E. Ministry of Justice and even the Dubai notary now offer remote powers of attorney. Just a really, really helpful development for all those who either live or want to invest in the U.A.E. or who work here. A lot of these services also are now starting to become more available in English. For example, even with the courts, the Abu Dhabi courts in particular, they offer a lot of their online court services in English. The Dubai courts as well are starting to introduce English more often. Now you can also serve defendants and parties by digital means, not as was the case before with all the physical and time-consuming service. All in all, basically, more and more, if not perhaps 99% of the government services are now not only accessible online, but almost exclusively accessible online, and they are quite highly integrated. If you are a resident here, it has really become so easy and smooth just through your U.A.E. pass to be able to access your various government services, anything from your visa renewal to your license renewal to your health records, your insurance, those of you with dependents, to the education authority, and so on and so forth, literally at your fingertips by virtue of your U.A.E. pass. All in all, really, we have made tremendous leaps forward in terms of embracing technology and digital tools. Truly, the U.A.E. is a role model for many in this regard. I just came back from the U.S., and compared to where they are in the U.S., the U.A.E. is like living a century ahead.
Tim Elliot: That’s another episode of Lawgical, this time the changes in a whole host of laws here in the U.A.E. in a really, really short timespan as well, just the last year or two. As always, our legal expert here on Lawgical is Ludmila Yamalova, the Managing Partner at Yamalova & Plewka. Thank you once again.
Ludmila Yamalova: Thank you, Tim. Always a pleasure.
Tim Elliot: You can find us at LYLAW on social media, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok. Whatever you do, don’t miss Ludmila on TikTok. We’ve also now got an easy-to-search library of hundreds of podcasts on all kinds of legal issues here in the U.A.E., all of which are free to listen to. To get a legal question answered in a future episode of Lawgical or a consultation with a qualified U.A.E. experienced legal professional, click the Contact at LYLawyers.com