Essam Al Tamimi, one of the UAE's most respected lawyers has publicly claimed that the pace of legal reform is speeding up in the UAE. Tamimi has spoken on the subject before with the Arabian Business Network magazine, "lamenting the country’s 'outdated' legal system and calling for much of its decades-old legislation to be revised." Tamimi said that his "bugbears were that residents and tourists could still be prosecuted under what he viewed as 'antiquated' laws, for example that prohibit holding hands in public."
Radha Stirling, CEO of British based NGO Detained In Dubai, the organisation leading the fight to free Jamie Harron, Billy Barclay and Jamil Mukadam responded, “we are glad to see the government enlisting someone like Essam Al Tamimi to help address the many problems faced by the UAE judicial system. The problems faced by the UAE will not be solved merely by enacting new laws that we can expect will be enforced as arbitrarily as the existing laws are enforced.”
Unlike most mature legal systems, in the UAE court decisions and sentences handed down from judges, are entirely discretionary. No legal precedents exist as guidelines for similar cases. This leads to vastly varying sentences for similar 'offences.'
Al Tamimi’s comments are being viewed as a response to the negative publicity about the recent cases of Scotsmen Jamie Harron and Billy Barclay on the UAE’s global reputation. Some observers consider this to be a cynical PR exercise lacking in genuine substance.
Ms. Stirling continues,”we would welcome working with the UAE government and with people like Essam Al Tamimi to ensure that the necessary reforms actually address the issues.
Radha Stirling. CEO of detained in Dubai, the British based NGO defending victims of UAE justice for over a decade.
Stirling continues,“the attention over these recent cases has seriously damaged the UAE's reputation. People would be mistaken to believe that any of this is new. The current global outrage is not just about the individual cases which have hit the headlines recently. Instead these cases have triggered the release of a long simmering hostility with the UAE in regard to its treatment of foreigners.
“These recent back to back cases of Jamil Mukadam, Billy Barclay and Jamie Harron seem to have been the the catalysts for Westerners to protest in force. The wider world is focusing on the Emirates right now. There is extensive coverage in most of the world's biggest media and travellers are expressing concern about travel to Dubai. Many people say they will shun the Emirates altogether in favour of safer destinations.
"If they are to avoid this, the UAE is going to have to act decisively. Visitors need to feel safe again, and this is going to mean modernising the legal system.
"In our ten years of operation, we have dealt with thousands of similar cases and unfortunately, these cases not at all unusual.
“We are encouraged by the proactive involvement of the Ras al Khaimah Board of Tourism in the case of Billy Barclay, and the announcement by Mr. Al-Tamimi but assurances are needed that this is not just another PR campaign for the UAE and that real legislative and systemic change will be made.”
Al-Tamimi’s statements notwithstanding, Jamie Harron awaits the judgement in his trial, which could see him sentenced to a lengthy prison sentence. UAE jail conditions are so poor that the UK government consistently refuses extradition requests from the UAE, citing the likelihood of human rights abuse and torture.
Jamie. Anxiously waiting to discover his fate at the hands of the Middle Eastern state.