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Most of Us are Criminals and Nobody Knows…

Guiding Principle

The fact that something is common practice does not make it legal: Document falsification in every-day life.

I had hoped that this title would trigger some attention, so thank you very much for reading my article!

This article deals with a form of day-to-day crime that hardly anybody seems to be aware of – the falsification of documents.

Art. 216 of UAE Federal Law No. 3 of 1987 (the “UAE Penal Code”) deals with, amongst other things, the falsification of documents. In severe cases, the falsification of documents is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

This does not apply to you, you think. Well, think again, because such acts of forgery seem to be the norm in the UAE, rather than an exception, and most perpetrators have absolutely no idea that they have just committed a crime.

Let me give you an example: just a few days ago after a routine visit to my doctor, one of the nurses asked me to sign the claim form for my health insurance. Not a problem, you think, apart from the fact that the form was blank, including the part where the doctor puts his or her diagnosis. Try protesting this “standard procedure” and you will be greeted with a mixture of disbelief and annoyance. Yes, by now you are officially a troublemaker, because you force the nurse to go back to the doctor and the doctor to actually fill in the form before you sign it. What a waste of time, right? Actually not. You have just saved the nurse and/or doctor from committing a crime (again).

Why is that? Surely, this is just a lawyer making up some legal mumbo-jumbo, right.

Not really, actually. If you are asked to sign a document your signature works as your very personal confirmation that you agree with the contents of this particular document. (Yes, this is exactly the reason why any bank and any notary will ask you to sign right next to any hand-written amendment that is being made to the document you are asked to sign)

So how can you confirm your approval of the contents of a blank document? You cannot. Moreover, you should not, because, as in my example with the insurance claim form you can only confirm what is already there. How about the doctor accidentally mixes up your claim form with that of another patient and you have just confirmed the doctor’s diagnosis of you being terminally ill while all you actually do have is a mild form of hay fever? So carefully check what you are asked to sign and make sure that there is actually something for you to sign off on!

If you bear in mind that a signature has a legal value and that it legally commits the person signing, it becomes apparent why the falsification of documents is a punishable act. The minute a person makes any changes (and I mean literally ANY changes) to a signed document there is a disconnect between the signature and the content of the document which the signature is supposed to confirm. Yet, the person signing will most probably not know about it and will be rather surprised once this person is confronted with his or her signature under a document that he or she has never seen before!

Just imagine (and believe me, this happens too!) you think you are purchasing a particular property in the UAE and are asked to “just sign”, following which the friendly agent promises to “fill in the rest for you”. I am sure you would not be too happy once you find out that the friendly agent, maybe even without any bad intention, accidentally completed the form with the details of another property at double the cost. The agent’s mistake? Absolutely, but try proving it! From a legal point of view, you have just purchased a property that you never wanted at a cost that you will never be able to afford. Next step, try finding somebody who feels sorry for you.

Bottom line: signatures do have a legal relevance and there is a very good reason for this being the case. At the same time, stay away from “improving” any document that has already been signed. Take it from a lawyer; it is a punishable act and not just a trivial offence.

April, 2015 Dr. Michael Krämer
Meyer-Reumann & Partners, Dubai Office
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