DUBAI // The chief of Dubai Police has renewed his calls to change the law on bounced cheques that has led to hundreds of people being jailed over what are often small debts.
Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim said using police to enforce the law was "not the proper way of doing things". Bouncing cheques is a criminal offence.
"We are not happy and we certainly do not think that is the proper way of doing things, but these are issues of individuals' rights," Lt Gen Tamim told Arabian Business magazine.
"It is important to note that the mere act of writing a cheque without the availability of cash to support it is a criminal offence that is punishable by the law."
Last year, Dh56 billion worth of cheques were returned of the Dh1.02 trillion presented, according to the Central Bank.
That looks likely to increase this year, with Dh26.6m of cheques returned in the first five months. But the proportion of dishonoured cheques has fallen slightly, to 4.6 per cent of the total value in the first five months of this year from 5.5 per cent last year.
Lt Gen Tamim's opinion has been echoed by lawyers around the country.
"The law is a like a living organism. It needs to change and adapt to its ever-changing environment to suit it," said Rashid Tahlak, a criminal lawyer with Dubai Advocates and Legal Consultants.
Mr Tahlak called for Article 401 of the penal code, which criminalises dishonoured cheques, to be changed or dropped.
Ali Musabah, an Emirati lawyer, also called for reform.
"I believe the courts should reform their approach and issue fines for first-time offenders owing small amounts," Mr Musabah said. "If a person was unable to repay his credit card or bank loan for good reason, he should be fined, not jailed."
While no businessmen are in Dubai prisons because of their debts, Lt Gen Tamim said several cases were before the courts.
"Many newcomers or maverick investors became millionaires overnight and they jumped into the wave of excesses in investments without proper plans or informed decisions," he said.
"They had no track record in sound investments and they thought it was easy money."
Lt Gen Tamim said easy access to credit during the boom was not the cause of rapidly rising personal debt.
"I think the problem was not about the ease of lending here," he said. "Banks could offer financing without getting exposed."
This story has been corrected to amend the amount of cheques returned according to the Central Bank. Dh56 billion worth of cheques were returned of the Dh1.02 trillion presented.