UAE store staff ‘have no right to search shoppers’

Dubai: Mall visitors have been advised to take legal action if they are subjected to uncomfortable moments and searched against their will when security alarms at   shops mistakenly go off.

Dubai malls and shopping centres have been witnessing a remarkable influx of  shoppers, tourists and visitors around the year with increasing number of visitors on  special occasions such as Eid Al Adha.

Some shoppers and mall-goers have reported unpleasant moments, whereby they were reluctantly restrained and/or searched by stores’ security guards, cashiers or vendors as soon as the alarm went off

Despite the fact that some guards, cashiers or shopkeepers apologise for unintentionally subjecting customers to such unpleasant experiences in public, lawyers who spoke with Gulf News have described those actions as criminal and ‘punishable by the penal and civil laws’.

Amid the Eid Al Adha festive rush to malls and shopping centres that continues until Saturday, a few such incidents have happened during the past few days. A European resident, who preferred to remain unidentified when she contacted Gulf News, claimed that when she visited a store at a well-known mall, she paid for her purchase but an alarm went off when she was leaving.

She said the stores’ cashier and security guards refused to let her leave and insisted on having her searched although she asked them to call the police.

The lady said that she paid for all her purchases, but the store staff treated her like a “suspected thief” until the truth was revealed when a female employee searched her [resident] and her bags and did not find any unpaid-for items.

“[It was] such an embarrassing and unpleasant feeling that I experienced in front of my friend,” said the resident.

Meanwhile an Asian shopper claimed that she and her daughter were subjected to a similar situation when staff at a unisex clothes shop refused to let them leave before they were searched.

The shopper confirmed that she did not even purchase any items from that particular store, but the staff only let the pair leave after they searched their bags.

“It felt very insulting to go through this simply because the store’s alarm was not configured correctly,” said the Asian.

“Such an act is [forbidden] by law because it is considered a breach of personal freedom,” advocate Nasser Hashem told Gulf News.

“Individuals’ personal freedom is protected by the UAE laws and Constitution. Stores’ employees are not allowed to search any shopper or have his/her baggage searched even on grounds of suspicions.

“No matter what happens and even if an alarm went off, the concerned staff should call in the police or any law enforcement officer to search the shopper. Sometimes even if the alarm goes off, it could be a cashier’s mistake.”

Meanwhile, Advocate Mohammad Al Shaiba also described such behaviour by store staff as unlawful.

“Stores’ employees are not allowed to infringe on somebody’s rights or search people unless they give their consent or as per specific situations determined by the law and the concerned authorities only,” said Advocate Al Shaiba.

“A person who feels that his rights were infringed and was subject to a similarly embarrassing situation, may file a criminal lawsuit against the store and the staff who searched him/her.”

Advocate Abdullah Al Nasser said the shopper may file a civil lawsuit and claim compensation for moral damages incurred by the shopper due to such illegal action.

“If the alarm went off mistakenly for any default and the shopper was subject to a reluctant search, then he/she has the right to lodge a civil compensation claim … particularly because the shopper was baselessly and unfoundedly accused, in front of other clients and in public, of something he/she did not commit. Law enforcement officers are the ones who have the right to search shoppers and no one else,” said Al Nasser.

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