Alcohol consumption and couples living together outside of marriage has become legal in the United Arab Emirates, it is reported. Anyone who drinks or is in possession of alcohol or sells alcoholic drinks in authorised areas without a licence will not face prosecution, the National reports.
Alcohol can still only be consumed privately or in licensed public places and people must be 21 to drink legally in the UAE, where Dubai has become a popular spot for Brit tourists. A huge change of rules also reportedly means unmarried couples are now allowed to cohabitate, previously a crime in the Emirates.
Official news agency WAM said the UAE would de-criminalise some acts which do not cause harm to others, with possible examples including alcohol consumption and consensual sex outside marriage, while leaving it to prosecutors and judges to define those acts.
Attempted suicide has also been decriminalised, reports said. The United Arab Emirates also said on Saturday it was cancelling lenient penalties for so-called "honour killings" and amending inheritance laws for residents as part of a reform of personal and family laws in the Middle East trade hub.
The government said the legal reforms were part of efforts to improve legislation and the investment climate in the country as well as to consolidate "tolerance principles". "There are a number of social and cultural changes and as society changes, so too must the law,” Judge Ahmed Ibrahim Saif, head of the Dubai Civil Court and former chief justice of Dubai's criminal courts said.
“We are in a rapidly developing world across all sectors and this means everyone needs to adapt and develop, including legislators. Legislators have to keep up with the changes and make law amendments accordingly."
Human rights groups say thousands of women and girls are killed across the Middle East and South Asia each year by family members angered at perceived damage to their 'honour'. This could include eloping, fraternizing with men or any transgression of conservative values regarding women.
A statement from the UAE federal government carried by the official news agency WAM said it had cancelled legal clauses that allowed judges to issue merciful sentences in "honour crimes". The Emirati government said those crimes will now be treated by courts as normal murder cases.
Residents of the Gulf Arab state will also have the right to choose inheritance laws to be used in each case, instead of the UAE legislation based on sharia (Islamic religious law).