United Arab Emirates: Overview: Crimes Committed Outside The UAE

Last Updated: 23 October 2018
Article by STA Law Firm
Most Read Contributor in United Arab Emirates, October 2018

The Territorial Applicability of Criminal Law in the UAE


It may sound odd, but there is a difference between international criminal law and criminal international law. What's more is that the differentiation between these two seemingly similar sounding things is of essential importance.

The international criminal law is a law which is laid down by the international community through international conventions held between several States. Therefore, it relates to international law subjects rather than municipal law.

The criminal international law is the law which concerns the rules of the crimes committed under the municipal criminal law, involving a foreign element, such as the venue of the offense, or the nationality of the victim or the offender. In such cases, the criminal law comes into focus to deal with the problems of legal jurisdiction and to solve the conflict of laws that may arise between domestic and foreign criminal rules.

The United Arab Emirates – territorial applicability

Federal Law Number 3 of 1987 (also known as the Penal Code) states within Article 16 that the Penal Code will apply to any person who commits a crime inside the territory of the State. The State shall consist of the lands and any place under its sovereignty, including territorial waters and airspace there above. 

A crime shall is considered to have been committed in the territory of the State if any of its constituent acts occurs therein, or if the result has been, or is intended to be, realized therein.

Article 17 provides for situations in which crimes are committed on-board warships and military aircraft which bear the flag of the State wherever they may be, such offense will fall within the ambit of the penal code. The applicability of the law will also apply to non-military governmental vessels owned or operated by the State for non-commercial purposes and as such commercial aircraft and ships bearing the flag of the state also fall within the purview of the law.

Where there has been an incident on a foreign ship which is in any of the ports of the State or its territorial waters, Article 18 of the Law states that the penal code will not apply unless the following circumstances are present:

  1. In cases where the effects of the crime extend to the State;
  2. If the crime by nature disturbs the peace or violates public morals or good order in its ports or territorial waters;
  3. If the shipmaster or consul of the State hoists their flag in an attempt to seek assistance from the local authorities;
  4. Should the offender or victim be a citizen of the State;
  5. If the vessel carriers materials or objects internationally banned from negotiation, possession or commercialization.

Although this provision does not extend to foreign aircraft in the airspace of the UAE Provisions will reach if the aircraft physically touches down in any of the airports after the perpetration of the crime. Also, if the crime by nature disturbs the peace in the State or violates its public policy, or if the offense violates the State navigation rules and regulations, or if the aircraft pilot seeks the assistance of the local authorities, or if the offender or victim is a State citizen.

There too are cases in which the merchant ships become submitted under the local State jurisdiction. This submission is following the International Seas Convention of 1982. These cases are as follows:

  1. The fact that the crime has been perpetrated by or against a person that is not a member of the crew;
  2. The case where the offense committed breaches the peace and security of the receiving state, such as in the case of smuggling of drugs; and
  3. The case where the ship has asked for intervention or assistance from the local authorities.

Where a person has committed a crime outside the State, according to Article 20 of this law, such person will fall within the ambit of the law and will be considered a principal or an accessory when the following crimes have been committed:

  1. An offense that violates the internal or external security of the state, its constitutional system or its legally issued financial securities or stamps or that involves forgery or counterfeiting of state instruments or official seals;
  2. Copy, falsification or copying of the states' currency, circulating or possessing the same for circulation, whether such acts are carried out within or outside the country;
  3. Forgery, falsification or counterfeiting of paper notes or minted coins for the distribution in the state, promoting such currencies and coins therein, or possession the same for circulation.

A citizen of the United Arab Emirate, while traveling abroad will not be able to escape liability under the law of the UAE. In accordance with Article 22 if a citizen becomes involved in an act which constitutes a crime as per this law, such person will be sanctioned in accordance with this law when he comes back to the country, provided that such a commission or omission is punishable in accordance with the law of the state within which the perpetration occurs.


The provisions of the criminal law are only applied within the States' territory. The internationally accepted definition of territory includes the following:

  1. The land – which consists of the earth, whether it is joined or separated (e.g., in the case of islands);
  2. Water areas – which comprise of internal areas such as rivers, lakes, and canals, as well as external water areas which include the territorial sea (i.e., 12 miles from the shoreline); and
  3. Air and space – which covers up the abovementioned areas of land and water.

However, there are two exceptions to the territorial applicability of the criminal law. There is a contrary exception in the form of criminal immunity and a real limitation in the way of the transnational effect.

Concerning the contrary exception, the following persons will qualify as such:

  1. Foreign heads of states – the law provides that the culpable acts committed by the foreign Head of State or by one of his/her family members during their visit to a State, such actions will be covered by criminal immunity, and those persons shall not be accountable for their culpable acts before the national courts of the receiving State.
  2. The reason for this is due to the perfect equality and absolute independence of the sovereign state that the municipal courts are incapable of conferring extra-territorial power;
  3. Diplomates – this criminal immunity is confined only to the procedural rules of criminal law and not to the substantive provisions as such;
  4. Foreign public and military ships and aircraft - the criminal law of the receiving state is not applicable to such persons as these ships or aircraft represent the sovereignty of the guest State in the host state;
  5. Foreign armed forces.

Definite Exceptions to the Territorial Applicability of the Criminal Law

In this situation, a state will take it upon themselves to punish persons who have committed a crime abroad. Pronouncement of the punishment must occur in the State whose law has been broken and can only require execution if the offenders come within its territory. The UAE Law on this follows upon French principles, with jurisdiction over offenses committed abroad claimed within broad limits.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions