British national Asa Hutchinson is not alone in being charged with a crime for being in the vicinity of the alleged incident. In the confusion of a crime report, it is common for victims to accuse all members of a party and in many cases, even witnesses are dragged through the judicial system.
This flaw is so well known in the United Arab Emirates that witnesses who are familiar with the country’s unusual legal processes, despite not having been involved themselves, will likely flee the scene, rather than risk being jailed unfairly.
Since the publication of Asa’s case in the worldwide media, another British woman has contacted Detained In Dubai with almost a replica of Asa’s case, having been arrested for assault and theft, despite being only a witness. Fortunately, authorities in this case have advised her that they intend to return her passport and refrain from prosecution. Asa though, still faces prosecution. Her Swedish accuser has refused to drop the charges against her and his lawyer has not responded to several attempts to remedy the situation out of court. If convicted, she faces months or years in prison, fines and deportation.
Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, who is representing Miss Hutchinson said, “Over the past decade, we have resolved thousands of cases of wrongful accusations and detentions. The UAE government has indicated that they support judicial improvements but, unlike building flashy hotels, it is extremely difficult to improve a judicial and penal system overnight.
“The chaotic judiciary can be beneficial to people who know how to manipulate it and thus, creates a disincentive to change. UAE law allows disgruntled parties avenues to personal vindication and in many cases, their motive may be financially oriented. We have seen complainants abuse the process to steal large amounts of money, companies or assets.
“There is little incentive to change a system that is so advantageous to locals. Even where laws have been passed, judges and police do not follow the statutory guidelines with regards to arrests and detentions and there is no genuine process available to make complaints in respect of legal abuse or corruption.
“There has been discussion over improvements to the way the UAE approaches credit card debts, loan defaults and bounced cheques but we still have British nationals being punished as they were before. Debt is criminalised in the UAE and the results of a criminal complaint are devastating; some Brits have been jailed for years while others have had their passports confiscated, been rendered unable to work and therefore unable to pay their debts. They are stuck in the country indefinitely, facing homelessness with no end in sight.
“The UAE, while seemingly willing to entertain the modernisation of its judiciary, faces severe cultural and practical hurdles and is unlikely to provide a safe and reliable legal system in the near future. Cases like Asa Hutchinson, Billy Barclay, Jamie Harron and Scott Richards will be repeated, as will debt related tragedies like Malcolm Monroe, who suffered a stroke and was in a coma but unable leave because of credit card debts that piled up after his stroke.
"It is promising to see UAE leadership intervening in cases like Jamie Harron and Billy Barclay and it will be even more of an accomplishment when such intervention is not required. We hope that again, Asa’s ordeal will soon be over but all people who become victims of the system, even if the case is intervened in, will suffer both financially and emotionally.”