ABU DHABI // The Supreme Court ruled that the case of a man convicted of assaulting his wife be retried because lower courts had failed to take into account the husband's rights under Sharia.
A man has the right to discipline his wife if he has exhausted all other punishment options under Sharia, but the beating may not be severe, Justice Falah al Hajeri said in his ruling. That provision was at the heart of the husband's argument, which had been ignored by the lower courts in their judgments, the Supreme Court ruled.
The Supreme Court neither accepted nor rejected the husband's argument, nor did it rule on his guilt, but rejected his conviction on the ground that the appeals court had not considered his argument. The case must now be retried in Sharjah courts.
Sharjah prosecutors charged the man with physical assault on December 26. Medical tests showed his wife suffered injuries that caused her to be temporarily disabled. Prosecutors asked the Sharjah Court of First Instance to apply Article 339, which allows a jail sentence of up to a year and a fine of up to Dh10,000 for causing physical harm.
The Court of First Instance found him guilty, and the man appealed; the Sharjah Court of Appeal upheld the conviction and the fine. He appealed again to the Supreme Court, because Sharjah does not have a court of cassation.
The man had argued before the lower courts that he was allowed under Sharia and UAE law to beat his wife after she insulted him.
"It must not be considered a criminal offence if a beating is administered with good intent by practising a right sanctioned by the law and within that right," Justice al Hajeri wrote. "A man disciplining his wife and children, and those under his care, is a right sanctioned by Sharia and the law."
The Supreme Court reiterated that UAE law and Sharia say beatings cannot be "severe" and may be administered only after a husband has verbally admonished his wife and refrained from sleeping with her. The man's defence lawyer argued that the appeals court had paid no heed to his right to beat his wife to "bring her back to the right path".
"Because the beating was not severe and because this argument was a central defence which could affect the outcome, the verdict should be rejected," his lawyer told the Supreme Court judges.
Justice al Hajeri wrote in his ruling: "Islamic Sharia has regulated marital life and clarified the rights of both the husband and the wife from each other. These rights must not be exceeded or neglected."
The case will be retried at the Sharjah Court of Appeal under a new panel, which must directly address the husband's argument about his rights.
In previous cases, the Supreme Court has ruled that a man who disciplines his wife would be considered to be breaking the law if his actions leave a mark.
After the ruling, Afra al Basti, the executive director of the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, said: "I reject violence against women, and our society rejects it too. I wish that laws which were introduced in the past and proved harmful would be revised.
"Wife beating is a contentious issue among Sharia scholars and no fixed criteria were set for it," she said. "I think that the justice system should take victims into account. Humans were bestowed with intellect; they should use it and not resort to violence and beating."
She said a husband's role in the modern age was different from in the past. "Woman are equal now in terms of duties within families and husbands cannot retain what was considered a right in the past."
Dr Mongia Suhai, a professor of Islamic Studies in Tunis, said: "The Prophet Mohammed never hit any of his wives, or any of his maids, or any animal, and we are meant to follow his teaching and his example."
A date for the new trial has not yet been set.