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More courts open to tackle petty crime

The chief justice says the increase in offences is a by-product of modern life, caused by the pressures of living in a crowded city.

DUBAI // A rise in the number of petty crimes has prompted officials to increase the number of courts to avoid a backlog of cases, according to Dubai's Criminal Court Chief Justice. Chief Justice Ahmad Ibrahim Saif said the increase was necessary to "reduce the pressure on judges so that individual cases are given more attention".

The number of misdemeanour courts in Dubai has been increased to 10 from eight to deal with the flow of cases; now each weekday three to five misdemeanour courts are in session. Justice Saif said most of misdemeanour cases center on incidents involving alcohol and bounced cheques, which were a problem long before the financial crisis occurred because postdated cheques - known as guarantee cheques - are commonfor spreading payments.

"There is no such thing as a guarantee cheque in law," the justice said. "When you issue a cheque you are responsible for guaranteeing that the sum of money on the cheque is available in your account to cover that cheque on the date mentioned." He added that even if someone ordered his bank to stop payment on a cheque, he would still be liable and could be prosecuted if the cheque was not honoured.

Anothern common misdemeanour offence is yelling insults or making rude gestures on the road. "Such instances are all too common in any crowded city," Justice Saif said. "The increase in cases is a natural by-product of modern life; in daily human interactions disagreements between people occur," he said, adding that the increase in both criminal and misdemeanour cases was normal and within predictable limits.

"When you compare the number of cases in Dubai with other countries, you find the crime rate here is very low. "What with the increasing number of people living in Dubai from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, some crime is expected." In the past eight months, the most common cases before the criminal courts in Dubai have been drug-related, with 231 such cases heard since September. The next most common crime was theft; since Sept 2008, the courts have heard 214 theft cases, including mugging, armed robbery, fraud and embezzlement. Over the same period there were 45 sex cases.

There were 17 cases of murder, deadly assault and attempted murder in the past eight months - an average of 2.1 a month. "In cases of murder you find multiple reasons, as you notice from attending court hearings. You cannot say killings occur mostly over money or honour. "In some cases, for example, two lifelong friends get into an argument over a minor issue and it escalates and one kills the other," the justice said.

While the death penalty is applicable in cases of premeditated murder, the sentence is rarely passed and even more seldom carried out. There have been no executions in Dubai for eight years. hbathish@thenational.ae

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