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Challenge of government decision to allow turtle dove hunting to continue

A civil court has shot down preliminary pleas by the environment minister and the minister for Gozo in proceedings where Birdlife Malta is challenging the government’s decision to open the turtledove spring hunting season in April last year.

The organisation had filed proceedings before the First Hall, Civil Court against the two ministers, their respective permanent secretaries, the Environment and Resources Authority and the State Advocate, seeking to review the decision greenlighting the spring hunting season for turtle doves and quails.

Birdlife claimed that Malta was obliged to adopt and abide by all EU Directives, including the European Birds Directive which stated clearly that no birds could be hunted during spring when they are heading towards their breeding grounds.

The directive allowed an element of derogation but that was heavily controlled.

By means of Legal Notice 116 of 2022, Malta provided for such derogation which, Birdlife claimed, was in breach of the 2009 EU Directive.

The defendants, except for ERA, raised three preliminary pleas arguing, in the first place, that Birdlife lacked juridical interest.

But Mr Justice Robert G. Mangion, rejected that argument observing that Birdlife, as an environmental organization, expected and insisted that Maltese state organs abide by environmental laws, both local and those which Malta is bound to follow as Member State.

By means of this court case, Birdlife was seeking to protect the environment and flocks of birds whose species, it claims, are decreasing in numbers through such non-observance of the EU Directive.

The defendants also argued that Birdlife’s interest was lacking because the 2022 spring hunting season was now over and the applicant’s claim had been exhausted.

But the court shot down that argument.

Saying that the defendants’ alleged shortcoming was “a story of the past” did not divest Birdlife of its right to sue.

Moreover, this issue about the derogation from the EU directive surfaced every year, observed Mr Justice Mangion.

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

Both ministers also pleaded that they were non-suited.

But the court pointed out that the wording of the subsidiary legislation clearly stated that the decision to open the spring hunting season was taken by the ministers concerned.

That second plea was also rejected.

Finally, the defendants argued that Birdlife ought to have sought another remedy, namely the ‘actio popolaris’ (popular action) under the Constitution.

But the court said that the applicant had a right to seek a remedy before the ordinary courts as it had in fact done by means of this action for judicial review.

Whilst turning down all preliminary pleas, the court ordered the case to proceed.

Lawyer Claire Bonello is assisting Birdlife Malta.