The very first dispute related to the Covid-19 which was inclusive of the trade secret was decided by the federal supreme court of the UAE in the later part of 2020. The case involved the issue of how an employer or an employee can treat Covid -19 issues within the workplace so that a secrecy is maintained.
The case mentioned above pondered around a public servant, namely the police officer. Whilst the pandemic time, he was given a duty of safeguarding a house which constituted with the Covid-19 positive people. His duty involved prevention of the people from escaping the house who were infected, thereby making sure that the virus does not further spreads. In addition to this he had to made sure that no one enters the house.
One day, while guarding the house he made a video, in which the background clearly showed the house of the infected people and the video consisted of a message from his side stating that people should not come near this infected area. The video message was circulated by him on whats-app to his family and friends. Due to this video, a public prosecutor filed a case against him for breaching the trade secrecy.
The case was filed in the Federal Primary court under Article 379 of the UAE penal code. The article enumerated:
"Shall be subject to a jail sentence for a minimum period of one year and/or to a minimum fine of twenty thousand Dirhams, whoever by virtue of his profession, craft, position or art is entrusted with a secret and divulge it in cases other than those allowed by law or if used for his own personal interest or for the interest of another person, unless authorized by the confiding person to disclose or use it.
The penalty shall be imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years in case the perpetrator is a public servant or a person in charge of a public service who was confided the secret because or on the occasion of discharging his duties or performing his service. "
The two prerequisites of the following article is that, firstly, there should be retrieving of the confidential information through the course of one's profession, craft or possession and secondly, the information so obtained shall be utilize by the person obtaining such information for his personal interest or the interest of the others.
Arguments of the Officer:
The officer also put forth his contentions in two folds. He contended that, firstly, the character of secrecy was absent in the information of the house containing the infected persons and secondly the aim of sharing the video was not to unleash a secret.
Ruling of the Federal Primary Court:
The court held that the accused i.e. the officer is not guilty of the offense charged on him and acquitted him from the charges that were brought upon him.
The order of acquittal of the officer was appealed by the public prosecutor in the Federal Court of Appeal where he requested the court to punish him with imprisonment of three months owing to his conduct of spreading the video message. The court held that there was a confidentiality breach on the part of the officer on sending the video to his family members involving the description of the house of the infected people as defined under article 379. In addition to this the court exclaimed that though, the intention of the officer did not involved a criminal intent as he was just informing his family to stay away from the area to avoid coming in contact of the virus, but unintentionally also it resulted in usage of that information for the benefit of the others as mentioned in the second part of the article.
Another aspect that the court brought forward was that the following article involved the procurement of such confidential information by the virtue of profession, craft or position and in the following case, the officer was able to make a video of the house of the inhabitants by the virtue of his position. Explaining further, the court said that he would not have been able to make the video had he been not posted for the service there and he would not have been able to get the information at the first place.
As a result the Federal court of appeal decided the case against the officer and found him guilty for the same.
Appeal in the Federal Supreme Court:
The supreme court was of the view that as the article is inclusive of two parts, the first essential is not met with since, though there was attaining of the confidential information, but the officer had no such criminal intent. In addition to this, the court agreed to the point of view of the Federal Primary Court that the act was nothing more than an act of warning and that the officer did not intend to open any secret of the family. As a result, according to the Federal Supreme Court, the elements of falling a case under article 379 of the UAE penal code were absent. Thus, the court found the officer as not guilty and acquitted the officer from all the charges that were framed against him.
The following case was the first case which involved the adjudication of the dispute arising from a situation created owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to this, it was also a first case involving the offense of trade secrecy within a Covid-19 situation which eventually provided some clarifications to the employers and the employees with respect to how one is supposed to carry out their work and how they are expected to dispose off their obligations. Finally, it provides a fair idea as to how one should treat the matters related to COVID 19 in a workplace by maintaining a secrecy at the same time.
Originally Published by Hassan Elhais, February 2021
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