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Attorney General announces fines to prevent spread of COVID-19

The UAE Attorney General has issued resolution No. (38) of 2020 following Cabinet Decision No. 17 of 2020 regarding the implementation of regulations for spreading communicable diseases. The resolution covers 15 penalties, ranging from AED 500 to AED 50,000, which aim to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus in the UAE.

The Attorney General has clarified that the fine for not wearing medical masks in closed places can only be imposed on patients suffering from chronic diseases and on people who are suffering from symptoms of flu and cold and fail to maintain social distancing while among other people.

The following are the violations and associated fines as issued under the Attorney General’s resolution:

  • Fine for not complying with instructions of home quarantine and/or not following the guidelines under the Home Quarantine Guide– AED 50,000
  • Fine for patients who refuse mandatory hospitalisation or fail to take the prescribed medicines despite being alerted – AED 50,000
  • Fine for violating administrative closure of public places like shopping centres, malls, outdoor markets, gyms, public swimming pools, cinemas, clubs, parks and restaurants – AED 50,000 (Additionally, there is a fine of AED 500 for people caught visiting these public places)
  • Fine for organising social gatherings, meetings and public celebrations – AED 10,000 (Additionally, there is a fine of AED 5,000 for people attending the social gatherings and events)
  • Fine for not conducting a medical test upon request – AED 5,000
  • Fine for violating precautionary measures set by the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention by people coming from nations affected by communicable diseases – AED 2,000
  • Fine for failure to observe health measures regarding regulation of roads, markets and other public places exempted from temporary closure – AED 3,000
  • Fine for failure to dispose of clothes, luggage or any temporary structures proved to be contaminated, which can’t be disinfected by the standard established methods – AED 3,000
  • Fine for unnecessary visits to hospitals and other health facilities – AED 1,000
  • Fine for exceeding the maximum number of allowed persons in a car (i.e. more than 3 persons in car) – AED 1,000
  • Fine for not wearing medical masks indoors and failure to maintain social distancing by persons suffering from chronic disease or having symptoms of flu and cold – AED 1,000
  • Fine for leaving home unnecessarily and without reason, except for important work or a genuine reason (purchase of essentials, medicines, etc.) – AED 2,000
  • Fine for violating provisions of the law when burying or transporting the body of a person who died from a communicable disease – AED 3,000
  • Fine for drivers failing to maintain hygiene and following sterilisation procedures in public transportation – AED 5,000
  • Fine for failure to take precautionary measures, failure for the crew of ships from the captain or shipping agent, as the case may be – AED 10,000

The National Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Federal Prosecution has been entrusted with the task of implementation of the resolution and may seek assistance from local and public authorities as required.

The penalties shall be doubled in amount for repeat violators and if the violator commits a third offence, he will be referred to the National Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Federal Prosecution for appropriate action. Further, the violator must also bear the costs of any repairs for damages occurring due to the violation.

The resolution is a part of the government’s measures to combat the spread of coronavirus and to protect the health of citizens and residents of the UAE by curbing unnecessary gathering and outings.

Dubai Notary Public Services to be Provided Remotely

A recent circular from the Notary Public in Dubai confirmed that due to COVID-19 all Notary Public services, in all branches, would cease up till the 9th April 2020. Up until this date it has been confirmed that certain Notary Public services may be conducted remotely.

The following Notary Services can be conducted remotely:

  • i) Power of Attorney notarisation;
  • ii) Notarisation of legal notices;
  • iii) Acknowledgements;
  • iv) Notarisation of Local Service Agent Agreements;
  • v) Notarisation of Memorandums of Association and addendum’s thereto for civil companies.

All services relating to commercial companies’ memoranda and addenda have been transferred to Dubai Economy and are no longer dealt with by the Dubai Notary Public.

The remote working times for the Dubai Notary Public will be from 8am till 4pm from Sunday to Thursday.

The service requires a subscription to BOTIM and the Notary office will contact the attestor to the document through this video connection to establish identity and knowledge of the document which must be sent to the Dubai Notary Public’s dedicated email address in PDF format with an approved reference to the remote signing on the bottom of each page. The fees will be payable by credit card and the courier will deliver the document at a cost of AED21 to your address.

There is therefore no need to wait for 9th April 2020 before important notarisation’s are attended to and BSA is able to assist you in finalising the arrangements for notarial execution of your documents during this already stressful time.

The impact of defamation and privacy on social media

We are frequently asked the question: are we allowed to publish, post, republish any information, content, picture, video or data on COVID-19 when using our private social media accounts? After all, it is in the public interest and everyone is doing it!

In an era where often more questions arise than answers, the public is eager to read, share and explore everyone’s views on a particular topic. Whether you are journalists or reporters providing professional coverage, business owners responsible for your employees’ conduct, family members responsible for your children or dependants’ actions, we all need some guidance and practical answers, in order to be aware of the legal implications of how we use our social media.

Whilst naturally we are all expressing and discussing our thoughts on the impact of COVID-19 (and given the Governmental advice of self-isolation, this communication is largely via the internet), it is important to be aware of the potential legal implications that the dissemination of information and expressions of opinion or fact could have in the UAE.

Within the contents of this short article, we will outline the key points which individuals should be aware of before submitting and/or disseminating information, pictures, posts or any audio, audio-visual or written material regarding COVID-19 into the public domain. The points covered by this article are applicable to individuals, , patients, advice, corporations or any other form of information. The two major risks can be broadly summarised as an i) Invasion of Privacy and ii) Defamation.

Privacy. The right to a private and dignified family life is considered inherent in the UAE and is appropriately safeguarded by numerous applicable laws and regulations. The disclosure of information or secrets relating to someone’s private or family’s life will attract liability under the Penal Code, the Cyber Crimes Law as well as laws related to media and publications in UAE, if no prior consent is obtained from the individual. This can include an image, photo, short videos or any materials that expose individual(s) to the public without their consent, even for the purpose of public awareness.

To put this into the context of COVID-19, to expose an individual as exhibiting symptoms or as having the virus is likely to be interpreted as an invasion of an individual’s right to a private life. Furthermore, to take a picture of another person(s) in a public place and ‘disseminate it’ by publishing it online could also be interpreted as an invasion of privacy.

The UAE Criminal Court of Cassation issued a binding court judgement in relation to privacy laws in 2016, where it affirmed the imposition of serious sanctions against all entities involved in publishing content that violates the privacy of individuals. The individuals, in this case, were walking in public areas (commercial malls) yet, they were filmed without their consent and this subsequently raised a claim for the invasion of privacy. The sanctions imposed by the Court of Cassation as a result of this invasion of a right to a private life included fines and deportation from UAE territory.

The fundamental point is that patients (including their family members), children, names, images, medical situations or related data, can all be classified as private information, which is exclusive owned by the individual concerned The disclosure of this information, in any form, should be carefully reviewed and assessed, in order to mitigate any potential risk. It is important that Employers or Individuals with dependants, raise awareness on the implications of reporting on social media platforms in respect of the applicable laws to ensure no violation, even if unintentional, occurs. Ignorance of the law or lack of intention to violate another’s right to privacy is not an excuse. It should be noted that simply re-sharing what someone else has shared or published will not exempt an individual or entity from liability.

We have observed a high level of professionalism and adherence with the applicable laws and the third parties rights of media service providers, including TV channels, radio stations, online newspapers and other mediums. This is apparent from all the reports and audiovisual content that we are receiving in relation to COVID-19. We have also witnessed reliable content on the topic that provides sufficient information to public and corroborates with official sources.

Defamation. Defamatory or libellous posts on social media could result in defamation claims under the applicable laws in the UAE. Whilst the creation and dissemination of parodic posts and content is a common occurrence in the UK and Europe, it is important to be aware that parody is not an available defense under UAE Law. Instead, it is more likely that a parody may be seen as an attempt to humiliate an individual or an entity and to harm their reputation, no matter how ridiculous the parody is.

More recently, an exception to this rule was passed in the UAE in DIFC Intellectual Property Law number 4 of 2019, in which it is considered that a registered Trademark, or a well-known Trademark, is not infringed in the DIFC if it is used in news reporting, news commentary or parody. However, this exception is specifically limited to DIFC and in relation to trademarks. This shows a willingness for parodic content to be recognised in the future, but for now, the public should be aware that parodic content, could be pursued by the concerned individuals and/or entities in UAE under the applicable defamation laws. To put this into context, any posts relating to patients, medical staff members, law enforcement agencies or the public reacting to incidents of public interest can be subject to legal liability. Defamation criminal liability is pursuable within a strict time bar from publishing defamatory content. However, civil liability and invasion of privacy criminal claims can be longer than defamation offenses.

It is worth reminding everyone that in accordance with articles 372 and 373 of UAE Federal Law No. 3 of 1987 in UAE (as amended), a defamatory statement is one that exposes a person to public hatred or contempt, even if the statement is true and correct. This means that a person is potentially exposed to a claim for defamation by publishing or disseminating any negative news about an individual or an entity. If the defamatory statement is made against a public officer or governmental entity, the imposed sanction could be significantly worse.

Based on the above, an individual, before communicating an opinion, posting or sharing any videos in relation to COVID-19, by whatever method of communication, should consider:

  1. Could this statement be interpreted as defamatory or an invasion of privacy for others? (i.e. does this statement suggest anything negative about an individual or entity in particular? Does it reveal any information or post any material regarding someone that can be classified as private content, a private location and/or unsuitable for public display); and
  2. Could this statement, post or content cause harm? (particularly to reputation and honour to an individual or entity, on a national and international basis).

We should all be aware that the protection of privacy, for the data of patients, defamation, cyber-crimes and all other related legal provisions in UAE are going to be likely reviewed and subject to enforcement proceedings should any violations be revealed. The priority now is for public safety but authorities and concerned individuals will be monitoring and documenting posted content that may be revisited in the future to explore any legal liabilities.

On a final note, social media platforms are extremely beneficial to the general public as they enable the transmission of awareness, encourage the freedom of speech and facilitate communication on an international basis, at a time where countries are shutting their borders and encouraging people to isolate. For example, the level of awareness that people gained on COVID-19 in such a short period is unprecedented. However, users should be aware that social media platforms are not private and the misuse of such platforms by sharing any content, statement or image that they come across, is subject to appropriate sanctions. Freedom of speech is granted and protected so long as it is in compliance with local regulations and public orders.

Dubai Courts Postpone all Judicial Hearings

Dubai courts in its Resolution No. (30) of 2020 issued on March 17, 2020 concerning the adjournment of judicial hearings and working remotely (the “Resolution”) decided on postponing all judicial hearings for the Court of Cassation, the Court of Appeal, and the First Instance Courts, and suspending testimonies and documentation of personal status from Sunday 22/03/2020 until Thursday 16/04/2020.

Some exceptions were made in the Resolution to the consideration of cases of temporary and urgent matters, online requests, criminal cases and appeals that include detainees and inmates.

The Resolution called on all court judges to file judgements at their specified sessions during the postponement period.

In a move to maintain the continuity of work, the Resolution activates a trial remote working system with a phased approach. In the first week, a maximum of 30% of the workforce can work from home. For the second week and thereafter, the management of the courts will continually assess how things are progressing and will allow working from home to apply up to a maximum percentage (not specified) of staff, which is higher than 30%. The Resolution also notes that it is of paramount importance during the remote working that the privacy and confidentiality of cases is in no way compromised.

The Resolution also specifies that employees from different disciplines and job grades are included in the trial with the possibility that employees exchange system implementation periodically to ensure business continuity in organisational units. And that work in various sectors is normal and that no services are stopped and to maintain the commitment of the employees to the standards and controls stipulated in the information security system for the Emirate of Dubai and approved by the Dubai Electronic Security Center, especially the sub-officer, remote entry security.

The Resolution also gives priority in applying the system to pregnant women, the elderly, people of determination and workers who suffer from chronic diseases related to the respiratory system or those that cause immune deficiency.

The Resolution called on all attendees not to visit the courts in person for all claims and requests services that can be submitted and followed up through the electronic and smart systems of courts and on all concerned authorities to follow up the implementation and take the necessary measures as of its date.

Update Regarding Foreign Direct Investment in the UAE

Following from our recent newsflash regarding foreign ownership of businesses in the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, has now made a statement approving the sectors and economic activities which are eligible for up to 100% foreign ownership. These include 122 economic activities covering industrial, agricultural, and services sectors.

This foreign ownership law is part of a multifaceted strategy by the UAE to increase foreign investment in the region.

If you would like to find out more information, please visit: https://bsabh.com/

About BSA Ahmad Bin Hezeem & Associates LLP

BSA is a law firm founded in Dubai with the mission of delivering top-tier legal services based on our comprehensive knowledge of local, national, and international law. Since our inception in 2001, we have rapidly expanded to a leading full-service law firm, with offices throughout the Middle East and France. Our lawyers are internationally educated, bi-lingual in languages such as English, Arabic, and French, and dual-qualified in both regional and international jurisdictions, having rights of audience in every country within which we operate. BSA is a law firm that truly reflects the energy and ambition of the Middle East.

The new foreign capital investment law in Oman

In the last decade, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has witnessed some legislative developments signalling efforts to reduce barriers to foreign investment in most of its member countries. The move has come due to a sharp decline in crude oil prices since 2015 resulting in significantly lower state revenues and partly due to the simmering discontent amongst the populace in wake of the Arab Spring. Much like its more powerful neighbours Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, Oman has also embraced policies liberalising foreign investment.

New legislation

On 1 July 2019, the late Sultan Qaboos, the then ruler of Oman, issued Law No. 50/2019 enacting the new foreign capital investment law (the “New FCIL”) that became effective later on 1 January 2020. The New FCIL replaces the earlier foreign capital investment law that was enacted under the Law No. 102/1994 (the “Old FCIL”). The Ministry of Commerce and Industry (the “MOCI”), being the corporate regulator in Oman, will issue executive regulations under the New FCIL (the “New Executive Regulations”) in July this year. The New Executive Regulations are expected to be significantly different from the executive regulations issued under the Old FCIL. Until the issuance of New Executive Regulations, the executive regulations under the Old FCIL will continue to the extent that they do not contradict the provisions of New FCIL

Key features

The Old FCIL restricted foreign investors to conduct any commercial activity in or from Oman without establishing a formal presence by way of a legal entity (commercial company or a branch office) or a local commercial agent. Under the Old FCIL, the maximum ceiling of foreign ownership was restricted to 49% of the share capital of a commercial company which was later increased to 70% upon Oman’s accession to the World Trade Organisation (the “WTO”) However, there were certain exceptions to this condition. GCC and US citizens and companies owned by them were generally allowed to have 100% ownership. Foreign investors setting up special projects (with a minimum capital of OMR 500,000, or equivalent US$ 1.3 million) contributing to the national development were also exempted from the maximum ownership rule provided they had prior approval of competent body. The foreign investors setting up businesses in one of the several free zones were also allowed to have 100% ownership. The New FCIL has abolished the shareholding restrictions on foreign investors (both natural and juridical persons) – effectively removing the requirement of having an Omani shareholder. The foreign investors will now be allowed to have 100% ownership in a wide range of permissible businesses though the fees payable for registration of such companies is set at OMR 3500/- which is considerably more than the fee that was payable by foreign investors for incorporating companies under the OLD FCIL.

The Minister of Commerce and Industry has issued a negative list setting out a list of 37 business activities in which foreign investment is prohibited. These activities include translation and interpretation services, bespoke tailoring, laundry services, taxi operating services, rehabilitation centres, etc.

All the benefits, incentives and guarantees granted to foreign investment projects under the Old FCIL shall continue until such time that such benefits, incentives and guarantees expire. The investment projects will be subject to the laws of Oman and international treaties in force concerning investments and avoidance of double taxation.

The provisions of the New FCIL shall not affect existing legislation related to GCC investments, the free zones (including the Special Economic Zone at Duqm) and the Public Establishment for Industrial Estates.

An Investment Service Centre (the “Centre”) will be established at the MOCI. The Centre is tasked with carrying out licensing and easing the procedures relating to grant of licences, permits and other consents required for an investment project. The Centre will also be responsible for issuing foreign investment licences to foreign investors.

An economic viability study would need to be approved by the MOCI under the New FCIL. It is not yet clear whether this requirement would apply to all foreign investments or just the projects.

The ministerial cabinet may, acting upon the recommendation of MOCI, grant a single approval (covering construction, manpower and other relevant approvals) to establish, operate and manage strategic development projects involving public facilities, infrastructure, new or renewable energy, roads, transport & ports. The New Executive Regulations shall set out the rules and procedures for grant of such approval.

The New Executive Regulations shall also specify the nature of investment projects that may be exempted from taxes and customs and non-customs duties and the duration of such exemptions. The investment projects may also enjoy additional benefits and exemptions at the sole discretion of the ministerial cabinet.

The courts of Oman will have jurisdiction to hear any dispute between an investment project and third parties. The courts will hear such disputes on an expedited basis. The disputes may also be resolved through arbitration. Although the dispute resolution mechanism seems unclear at the moment due to reference to both litigation and arbitration simultaneously, it is expected that the New Executive Regulations will clarify the position.

Future

While we await the New Executive Regulations to clarify certain points including the much-speculated minimum capital requirement for foreign investors to establish a commercial company in Oman, the New FCIL has indeed liberalised the foreign investment regime in the country to much extent – in particular by allowing 100% foreign ownership for most business activities.

Although the move towards liberalisation of foreign investment is largely being driven by lower crude oil prices, it seems that the policymakers in Oman have recognised that simply being open to foreign investments is not enough to diversify the economy. The International Monetary Fund, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and World Economic Forum have noted that “FDI can boost growth by triggering technology spill overs, promoting knowledge, creating a more competitive business environment, and enhancing productivity.” Past studies have consistently shown that FDI contributes to both productivity growth and income growth in the domestic market beyond what domestic resource mobilisation could alone achieve. The FDI inflow into Oman reached US$ 4.1 billion in 2018 (showing an increase compared to 2017 from US$ 2.9 billion). Free zones (such as the ones in Duqm, Sohar and Salalah) have proven the economic effects of allowing foreign investment. For Oman, foreign investment outside of the oil sector presents a real opportunity to advance domestic knowledge and develop additional competitive and value-add sectors.

Hitherto, the Omani state has been the primary investor in the local market and developer of mega infrastructure projects across the country. The New FCIL coupled with progressive policies towards economic liberalisation has the potential of diversifying the economy and paving the way for the private sector (including foreign investors) to play a bigger role in the development of Omani economy and reap the benefits out of it.