Lawyer warns liquor licensing laws ’apply to all’

The National, 30-12-2010 14:29:00

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Those ringing in 2011 with a glass of champagne and no alcohol licence will be breaking the law - even tourists.


And so are those throwing a party and sharing their alcohol and those drinking in an emirate for which their licence is not valid.


Federal law makes it illegal to consume alcohol in the UAE without a licence - whether at home or in a hotel, and this applies to both residents and tourists, according to the Abu Dhabi-based lawyer Khalid Mustafa.


So while hotel establishments may rarely ask customers to produce their licence, drinking alcohol without a licence at such a venue could still lead to time in jail.


Mr Mustafa gave the example of a person riding in a taxi that was then involved in an accident.


"The police would take them to the police station and test them," he said. "If they are shown to have drunk alcohol, they would be held on suspicion of drinking alcohol."


Anyone who is consuming, transporting, possessing or selling alcohol needs a licence, regardless of whether they are a resident, he said.


The penalty for not having one could be as much as five years in jail and a Dh5,000 fine.


The availability of alcohol to unlicensed customers in many drinking establishments has led some to say regulations are inconsistent and do not serve the public interest.


"If a man steps out of a bar he would be arrested for illegal consumption of alcohol, but why isn’t the bar shut down?" asked one Dubai judge, who wished not to be named.


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, but has no rules on selling to those without a licence.


A Dubai court judge who handles alcohol licensing cases said regulations were inconsistent. "The licence and the law are confusing," he said.


The number of alcohol-related crimes in Dubai has dropped significantly according to statistics revealed by Chief Justice Ahmad Saif of the Dubai Criminal Courts of First Instance.


There were 2,216 cases in Dubai from January 1, 2010 until last Sunday, compared with 3,292 for the whole of 2009. Few of them involved licence issues, and most of the transgressions were punished with fines.


"The majority of cases that come before us are not involving unlicensed expatriates but Muslim drinkers," a senior prosecution official said.


Traffic deaths in Dubai related to drink driving were at their peak in 2006 with more than 70 people killed in alcohol-related accidents. In the first ten months of 2010 this number dropped to three, according to the Dubai Police annual traffic report.


Because the local police authorities handle the licensing for import and supply of alcohol, they can use their discretion with the individual such as the amount he or she is allowed to purchase per month, where the person can consume it and if he or she can transport it, said Chief Justice Saif.


In Abu Dhabi, the minimum monthly income to acquire an alcohol licence is Dh2,500. Each licence allows its holder to spend up to 20 per cent of their salary on alcohol. The licences expire after one year, and spouses can be added to the licence of their partner.


The minimum income for a licence in Dubai is Dh2,000. Spending is limited to Dh500, Dh750, Dh1,000 or Dh1,500. Licences are fitted with smart chips to monitor purchases and stop the card if criminal charges are filed against the holder. The licence is not available to Muslims.


Application forms are available at alcohol vendors.

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