Court turns down ministers’ pleas on BirdLife lawsuit over hunting derogation

Both environment and Gozo ministers will have to answer for the claim after a judge refused their pleas that they were non-suited

A pair of shot turtle doves
A pair of shot turtle doves

A court has shot down preliminary pleas by the ministers for the environment and Gozo, in a case filed by Birdlife Malta to challenge the government’s decision to open the turtle dove spring hunting season in April last year.

Mr Justice Robert G. Mangion recognised Birdlife’s juridical interest in insisting that Maltese institutions abide by national and European environmental laws, and that it right to sue was still intact even though the 2022 spring hunting season was over.

These proceedings could be beneficial to all the parties, not simply Birdlife, the judge said.

Similarly, both ministers will have to answer for the claim after the judge refused their pleas that they were non-suited. The Court pointed out that both ministers were personally responsible for declaring the season open, as stated in the law.

Lawyer Claire Bonello is assisting Birdlife Malta.

Rejected injunction

Earlier this year, judge rejected BirdLife Malta’s application for an injunction that would have prevented the opening of the spring hunting season for turtle dove this year. The matter now has turned into a new lawsuit to challenge the Maltese government’s application of its assumed right to derogate from the EU’s ban on spring hunting.

The judge ruled that, notwithstanding the submissions made by BirdLife’s lawyers, the respondents were correct in claiming the impossibility of the court action on the grounds that the same merits had already been decided upon by the Court last year.

The Gozo minister is responsible for declaring the hunting season, even though the law refers to the minister for environment as the person responsible to whom the Ornis Committee, a consultative committee of hunters and conservationists, recommends whether to open the season or not.

In 2022, the Wild Birds Regulation Unit reported the Turtle-dove population as stable, despite international reports on its declining population. The Ornis committee recommended the opening of the spring hunting season for quail and turtle dove within set national limits.

After the committee gave the go ahead for the hunting season to open, BirdLife Malta took the government to court and requested a prohibitory injunction that would prevent the government from issuing the legal notice that would officially open the spring hunting season for the turtle dove.