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Dubai judges say petty thefts should not reach court

DUBAI // You are an employer who catches a staff member stealing a chocolate bar from another worker’s desk. Who are you going to call?

It may be time you dealt with it internally rather than calling the police, judges say.

A series of minor offences have gone through the Dubai Criminal Court recently and judges have voiced their concerns about cases that cost far more than the value of the stolen items.

“It is theft, no question about it, but since the value of the stolen item is not even equal to the cost of the papers in the file, why not deal with such cases differently?” asked Judge Ezzat Abdullah.

Judge Abdullah said the law gave prosecutors the power to take action in such minor cases without referring them to court.

And he said that employers should look at internal action, instead of calling police.

“In my personal opinion, sending one to jail for stealing a small thing could turn him from a reformable person into a criminal,” he said. “We would keep him with criminals who may turn him into a real criminal.”

Another judge, who wished to remain anonymous, said a thief’s employer could punish them by, for example, docking their pay.

“We also have to think of what this person has been through and paid to get here and find a job, which most probably is supporting an entire family back home,” the judge said.

In the past two months, Dubai Criminal Court has dealt with seven minor theft cases.

Under UAE law, minor thefts are punishable with six months in prison or a fine that is left to the judge’s discretion. The sentence can also be reduced depending on the case.

Most of the defendants in the seven cases were labourers. The stolen items included 5 Kuwaiti dinars, a Nokia charger, four Kit-Kat bars and a purse worth Dh25.

In many of these cases the judge has been lenient and issued a fine or handed the defendant a suspended sentence, and ordered that they not be deported.

Criminal Court Judge Ahmed Badr said prosecutors should use their power to dismiss such cases.

“Sometimes the defendant’s motive to steal that simple item is not really criminal,” Judge Badr said.

Prosecutor Ahmed Al Attar said the department did dismiss cases for not being of high importance, for reasons including the accuser dropping charges, and the offender’s age and record.

“We also consider the welfare of the defendant but we are obliged to consider all factors before making a decision,” Mr Al Attar said.

“I would assume that cases of this kind that have been heard by the court are repeat incidents by the defendant and not a first-time offence.” Lawyer Ahmad bin Mismar said defendants in such cases should not be detained, to avoid costs, and fines more than or equal to the value of the stolen item should be issued.

“Maybe the law needs to define a minimum value of a stolen item in order to consider it a crime worth referring to court, and if the stolen item was less than the minimum, it should be dealt with by police or prosecution through a settlement,” Mr bin Mismar said.

Emirati lawyer Huda Rustom said thefts, minor or major, did require punishment to maintain the country’s security.

“But as it may be costly to the country, I think expatriates accused of stealing low-value items can be given a fine, deportation or both while Emiratis could be referred to court,” Ms Rustom said.

Verdicts have been issued in three of the seven cases in court so far.

Indian P J, 25, who worked as a baggage handler and was accused of stealing two sweets was found not guilty.

Nepalis P S, 20, and L K, 24, also Dubai airport baggage handlers, were convicted of stealing four Kit-Kats from a passenger’s bag and given suspended three-month sentences each.

Kenyan SA, 24, was given one month in jail for stealing a purse worth Dh25 and a ring worth Dh75.

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(via The National)