Is alcohol consumption legal in UAE?
Legal position at the federal level
Before a recent amendment made by the government in the year 2020, there were very strict provisions relating to the use of alcohol, especially for the Muslims. It was provided that if a person consuming alcohol for the personal usage without obtaining authorization from the government was considered to have committed a penal offense as per the provisions of UAE Federal Law No. (3) of 1987 (UAE Penal Code). As per Article 313, the offender was subject to an imprisonment period of 6 months along with a minimum fine of AED 10000. Similarly, the act of importing, exporting or manufacturing alcohol for the trade purpose was subject to a detention period of 2 years, along with a minimum fine of AED 50000.
Provisions under the amended Federal Criminal Code:
The Federal Law No (15) of 2020 mended the provisions of UAE Penal Code. Article 313 was changed radically and a new Article 313 (bis) was introduced. The major highlight of the amendment was that it decriminalized the use of liquor for the all the people above the age of 21 years, provided that certain conditions are met. For better understanding, the amended Article provided that-
- The use of alcohol at certain authorized places was legalized, and no penalty shall be imposed whatsoever on the drinking, possession or trading in alcohol at those specified places.
- All the emirates were given the powers to frame their own rules and regulations to regulate the use of alcohol.
- It strictly prohibits the use of alcohol for the people below the age of 21 years. The violation of the same shall be considered a penal offense, and shall attract a detention period along with a fine of minimum fine of AED 100, which can be extended to AED 500 in certain cases.
Legal position at the local level
As evident from the wording of Article 313 (bis), the emirates have complete power and autonomy to frame their own laws and regulations relating to the use of alcohol. For instance, in the emirates of Sharjah, the use of alcohol is still prohibited.
The Union Supreme Court in a judgment(Federal Supreme Court judgment 1308 of 2020)confronted with an important question, namely, whether the federal provisions will supersede the provisions of the emirates. The court while interpreting Article 313 (bis) clarified that if the federal laws and the local laws of the emirates are inconsistent with each other with respect to the use of alcohol, the rules of the emirates can’t be disregarded, and they shall prevail over the federal laws.
Though with the recent amendment the use and trading of alcohol is permitted at certain authorized places, it is always subject to the rules and regulations issued by the emirates. Some emirates have made their local laws consistent with the federal provisions whereas some are running with the existing legal provisions. In a nutshell, it can be said that UAE government is trying to relax the stringent provisions, and the judgement of the Union Supreme court shall be closely observed as further clarity is expected with the issuance of new judgments.