Liquor licence laws won't trigger arrests, police say
ABU DHABI // Police will not arrest anyone for alcohol violations unless some other crime has been committed, despite unambiguous laws on the books, according to a top police official in the capital.
Federal law makes it a crime to consume or purchase alcohol without a licence, whether a person is a tourist or a resident. Muslims are prohibited by law from obtaining a licence.
Yet last year, more than 140 million litres of alcohol were consumed – enough to fill 50 Olympic-sized swimming pools – according to a report issued by a London-based market research company. That amounts to nearly Dh28 billion in sales, according to the Euromonitor International report.
Per capita, UAE residents consumed 29.8 litres of alcoholic drinks in 2010. According to the same report, China consumed 39.7 litres per capita, and India 3.1 litres.
The Criminal Investigation Division official, who did not wish to be identified, said police took a more common-sense approach to alcohol law enforcement because it was not seen to be a serious threat to society, like drugs.
“It is not like drugs which is a worldwide problem that has drastic consequences,” he said.
“If I walk into a hotel or bar and I can see that the people drinking are Muslims, as a security official, I do not have the right to arrest them.”
Even if a someone were walking in the street and was clearly drunk but did not have the alcohol with him and was not causing problems, police would not arrest him, the officer said.
“So if we receive a report that someone caused a traffic accident, and we found him to be under the influence of alcohol and did not have a liquor licence, we will prosecute him for both offences,” he added.
“Or if a person gets in an accident, and when we inspect the car we find bottles of liquor and he does not have a licence, we will also prosecute him for not having a licence.”
Even in those cases, he added, the place where a person bought the alcohol would not be prosecuted for selling to people without checking their licences.
The UAE has a zero-tolerance policy on alcohol consumption, but these guidelines are left to police to enforce, according to Chief Justice Ahmad Saif of the Dubai Criminal Courts of First Instance.
According to federal law, he said, individuals who want to consume alcoholic drinks must possess a licence, whether in their homes or in licensed drinking establishments.
“Federal law number 13 states that licensing for import or supply of alcohol is handled by the local police authority,” the chief justice said.
This means that when a resident applies for a license, police apply certain guidelines such as the amount someone is allowed to purchase per month, where that person can consume it and whether they can transport it.
There were 2,216 alcohol-related cases in the Dubai courts in 2010, a significant drop from 3,292 in 2009.
The majority of consumption, according to the report, is in on trade premises such as bars, hotels or nightclubs: more than 82 per cent of the purchases occur there, while only 17.7 per cent occur at alcohol vendors.
The Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing in Dubai, which handles bar and club licensing, has strict guidelines regarding age restrictions, activities, entertainment and cleanliness. There are, however no rules or regulation regarding selling only to licence holders.
Indeed, many patrons say they have never been checked for ID while buying alcohol at a bar or store.
“I have been living in the UAE for over six years, and I have never been asked for a licence to drink at a bar,” said Daniel Stapelton, a British teacher who lives in Dubai.
“I have been purchasing alcohol with my licence for a long time,” said Dravinder Rao, an Indian executive in Dubai.
“I have never used it when I go out ... as far as what I was instructed, this card was for me to use for personal consumption at home.”
A hotel bar manager, who requested not to be named, said hotels had not been warned about selling to patrons who do not show licences.
“We never request tourists or residents for licenses. As far as we know we are not held accountable for selling to them as long as we are adhering by the DTCM regulations,” he said.
Bar and club sales of alcohol incur a 131 per cent tax in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Fujairah and Ras al Khaimah.
A 100 per cent import tax is also imposed, in addition to a five per cent alcoholic drink tax, a six percent tourism tax, a 10 per cent municipality fee and a 10 per cent service charge at bars and restaurants.
Service and municipality fees are imposed on bars, hotels and restaurants in all the emirates except Umm Al Qaiwain and Ajman.
Updated: January 24, 2011 04:00 AM