Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 24 May 2019

Senior judge backs introduction of electronic tagging in UAE

The alternative to prison terms will reduce financial burden on the country, believes the head of Dubai's civil courts

 Judge Ahmed Ibrahim Saif has thrown his support behind plans to roll out electronic tagging in the UAE for the first time. The National
 Judge Ahmed Ibrahim Saif has thrown his support behind plans to roll out electronic tagging in the UAE for the first time. The National

A senior UAE judge has backed the introduction of electronic tags for people convicted of minor crimes, saying it will reduce the financial burden on the country's judicial system.

Offenders sentenced to less than two years in prison - for crimes such as theft and writing dishonoured cheques which do not carry mandatory deportation - could be put under a form of house arrest rather than behind bars in a major law reform.

Prisoners jailed for between two and five years, who have already served half of their sentence, will also be given the opportunity to apply to serve the rest of their term under house arrest.

The monitoring devices, also called GPS bracelets, track the location of the person wearing it.

Judge Ahmed Ibrahim Saif, head of the Dubai Civil Court and a former head of the criminal courts, told The National that electronic monitoring also provides a greater opportunity for rehabilitation.

“There are costs during legal procedures like transporting prisoners back and forth to court and other costs in prison like guarding and,” he said.

Judge Saif believes that electronic tagging will open a wider door for reform.

“The impact of being in prison is much harsher on both the person and his family.

“With this practice, despite movement being restricted to a certain geographical area, the person will have a form of freedom to pursue life, be among his family and rethink his actions.

“He may face situations where he can't accompany his family or friends to certain destinations that are located outside the area set by the law but this is a factor that will further encourage the person to correct their ways.”

The leading judge said there is a 'grave danger' that associating with hardened criminals can have a negative impact on inmates locked up for comparatively minor offences.

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“Sending people who have committed minor offenses to prison may cause grave dangers because putting them in direct contact with long-time criminals may influence them negatively.

“He will go to prison for a misdemeanor and may come out to commit a crime far more serious after being influenced by criminals.”

Electronic tagging for criminals who have committed minor offences will help reduce the crime rate in the UAE and put offenders on the track to rehabilitation, an expert has said.

Lama Younis, a criminologist and forensic psychologist, said the introduction of the monitoring device would encourage those eligible to be well behaved during their prison sentence to qualify for the new scheme.

She said first-time offenders will be given a chance to reform.

“When they know they have an alternative to prison they will have that epiphany moment when they say to themselves ‘it’s time to correct my ways,’" Ms Younis said.

In some cases, the move could benefit both the offender and the victim, she said

If someone is found guilty of issuing a bounced cheque of greater value that Dh200,000, the offender’s movements, when they are released, will be restricted and they will not be able to flee the country.

Similarly, someone released with a GPS bracelet is more likely to repay debts if they are able to find work.

“This means that the victim’s chances of retrieving their money is much higher,” said Ms Younis.

The exact details for the device’s use have yet to be revealed but Ms Younis said that fitting former criminals with a wrist bracelet, that is concealable to the public, rather than an ankle bracelet, as is the case in some countries, would help wearers feel less embarrassed.

“An offender wearing the device on his ankle will feel more confidant and comfortable as its invisible to others which is a factor that will contribute to this person’s reform,” she said.

The monitoring devices, announced in September, are the latest in a drive from the government to prioritise rehabilitation over incarceration.

Amendments to the anti-narcotics law issued in 2016 gave first-time drug users the opportunity to choose rehabilitation over imprisonment.

In 2017, Dubai courts announced eight offences that could be settled out of court. These included cases involving bouncing cheques for amounts not exceeding Dh200,000, the failure to pay fees or costs of not more than Dh50,000, and issuing insults. The change also meant that anyone who has attempted suicide, and failed, would be fined and not prosecuted in court.

And in March last year, the option for community service to replace detention for minor crimes was announced.

Updated: December 27, 2018 04:30 PM

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