x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Prudent prosecution of attempted suicide

The conviction of a maid, who was left destitute by her employer, is a good example of how careful jurisprudence could serve the public interest.

It is difficult not to feel sympathy for the Ethiopian maid whose story unfolded in the Misdemeanour Court in Dubai last week. As The National reported yesterday, AM, 24, was thrown out of her sponsor's home after a complaint about her work.

When she asked for the three months' salary owed to her to be sent to her family in Ethiopia, she was told her sponsor did not have the money. With nowhere to go, she simply walked out into the middle of a road and stood there.

When police approached her, she told them that she had meant to end her life. AM, who could not even give the police directions to the villa where she had been employed, was arrested despite her obvious state of distress.

"I found myself thrown away and I thought of my poor family back home," she said. "I felt desperate and I thought I should die."

When the matter went to court, the woman was found guilty of attempted suicide and fined Dh1,000.

Attempting suicide is illegal in the UAE - as it is, or has been until recently, in many other jurisdictions around the world. The police acted according to the letter of the law in arresting AM. But there should be prudence at the level of the police or public prosecution to decide whether going to court is in the public interest.

The verdict is in the past, but there is an argument that the state has a duty of care towards AM. There is also a strong case for the police in Dubai to vigorously pursue the sponsors who failed to pay the money owed to her, and to investigate the agency that employed her and has a continuing responsibility for her well-being.

By standing in traffic, AM put others in danger as well as herself. Yet it must be asked: what is to be gained from punishing a desperate and disorientated woman by applying a fine that she has no means to pay?

The issue here is the prudent application of justice. In such cases, the police or the court should exercise the flexibility to refer the offender to a social worker, psychologist or charity. Attempted suicide cases are always more of a harm to themselves than to society. Justice could still be served, but in a more compassionate way.