x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Judicial safeguards exist in capital cases

A recent death sentence delivered in a drug dealing case requires an explanation of the judicial process, and the safeguards in capital punishment cases.

Let the wheels of the judicial system work their course. The news reported yesterday - that two men, a 19-year-old Syrian and a 21-year-old Briton, were sentenced to death for dealing drugs - has already excited controversy in both the UAE and abroad. But the case is far from over, and now depends on the appellate proceedings.

In UAE courts, decisions made by the Courts of First Instance can be appealed before both the Court of Appeals and the Court of Cassation. In fact, a process of four appeals is possible. A case is not closed after the first verdict is issued - often sentences are reduced or changed during the appellate process.

Death sentences are automatically appealed. While it would be pointless to speculate about this most recent case, there are plenty of precedents from other capital punishment cases.

The requirements for upholding and carrying out a death sentence are extremely high in the UAE. In 2010, The National reported that every death sentence handed down for drug offences over recent years had been rejected by the Court of Cassation on procedural grounds. The court cited failures in collecting information, in making arrests or in trial procedures. Examples included a translator who had not been under oath while translating a defendant's testimony, a verdict that had not been issued unanimously, an arrest that had been made without a clearance from public prosecution, and concerns about the quality of video evidence.

The UAE takes drugs crimes extremely seriously. Every person on UAE soil is responsible for understanding the law and acting accordingly. The tough laws have helped to establish a society that is remarkably drug free, although anecdotal evidence in recent years has indicated a slow increase in drug-related crime, especially involving young people.

The country is known for strict sentencing for drug-related crimes, and that includes drug use as well as the more serious crimes of distribution and trafficking. But strict sentencing is accompanied by a lengthy appeals process and rigorous judicial review.

In capital cases, the higher courts have made clear that defendants will have every recourse to appeal. That will be the same in this recent case as with any other.