Arson means the act of deliberately setting fire to property and thereby causing widespread damage, including danger to people and animals. Although the offence of arson typically involves buildings, it could include any property, such as motor vehicles, trees and plantation, workshops etc. Arson is considered to be a felony, meaning that it is a serious offence, and therefore the penalties that an arsonist, i.e. a person committing arson, may be subject to are harsh.

The UAE Penal Code, Federal Decree-Law No. 31 of 2021, puts arson under the category of crimes involving public danger, and maintains it as a felony. According to Article 354 of the Penal Code, arson could be committed against the following properties:

  1. Buildings
  2. Factories, workshops and warehouses
  3. Inhabited/uninhabited buildings situated in cities or villages
  4. Railway vehicles or stations
  5. Wagons transporting persons with one or more people on-board
  6. Ships, whether sailing, at anchor, or at the port
  7. Aircrafts, whether flying or at the airport
  8. Buildings established or intended for dwelling located outside populated cities

Whether the property so damaged was owned by the criminal or not is immaterial; the punishment for committing arson will be the same, which is temporary imprisonment for a minimum of 7 years. The criminal, in addition to the imprisonment, will be liable to pay a fine equivalent to the damage caused by him.

Also, if it is found that the offence as under Article 354 was committed in order to gain some sort of advantage, either to the criminal himself or to any other person, the same would be considered as an aggravating circumstance.

Natural surroundings such as forests and woodlands, and orchards are also covered under the ambit of property, which means that setting fire to any of these would result in temporary imprisonment, as per Article 355 of the UAE Penal Code. If a person sets fire to unharvested crops belonging to someone else, or even to those of his own but such fire results in damage to another person's property, he will also be liable to temporary imprisonment under the same provision.

Damage to third party's property: Setting fire to property when it extends to a third person's property, and thereby causes damage, is also an offence under Article 356 of the UAE Penal Code, punishable by temporary imprisonment. The property may be uninhabited buildings located outside cities, crops or stacks of straws, or stacked or compact logs, and it is immaterial as to whether the criminal was the owner of such property or not.

If a person sets fire to a property with the intention of causing material damage to a third party, or to achieve unlawful advantage either to himself or to another person, he will be punished by a jail sentence and a fine not less than 10,000 dirhams. This is as per Article 357 of the Penal Code.

Negligence: Article 360 states that if a person causes burning to another person's property due to his fault, he will be liable to jail sentence of about a year, and a fine of at least 10,000 dirhams.

Death of a person: If arson, as committed under Articles 354 and 355 of the UAE Penal Code, results in the death of a person, the criminal will be subject to death penalty. Life imprisonment will be awarded to those guilty under Articles 356 and 357 of the Code.

Using explosives to further any of the abovementioned offences is considered as an aggravating circumstance as per Article 359 of the Code.

Article 361 lays down the punishment for those who, by virtue of law, are required to possess a fire extinguisher but fail to install it properly or maintain it for use at all times. Consequently, such a person will be subject to jail sentence of at least one year or a fine of minimum 10,000 dirhams. Changing the location of the fire extinguisher, removing it or rendering it unfit for use will also attract a penalty of jail sentence for at least a year and a fine not less than 50,000 dirhams.

Since arson involves malicious intent on part of the offender, the penalties are kept strict to ensure adherence to the law.

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.