A prohibitory injunction against Turtle dove Spring hunting remains provisionally in place as a court sitting on Friday afternoon ended without a decision being taken.
The court decision is expected to be issued on 17 April, preventing government plans for the opening day of the Turtle dove Spring hunting season from being held on the same day.
In court, BirdLife Malta presented a letter sent by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius, asking him to prevent Malta from opening a Turtle dove Spring hunting season.
In comments to The Shift, BirdLife Malta President Darryl Grima said that the IUCN is the foremost authority for bird conservation internationally. He decried the State Advocate’s attempt to retract the provisionally upheld prohibitory injunction and said that “the state advocate should not be the advocate of the executive, but the advocate of the state”, condemning his “bullying tactics”.
The court presided over by Judge Giovanni Grixti heard arguments from BirdLife Malta and the State Advocate. Birdlife’s current injunction is stalling the legal notice for a derogation from the EU Birds Directive, which would allow for a spring hunting season for Turtle dove.
The prohibitory injunction was initially set to be heard on 18 April, but was moved forward four days following pressure from the government, particularly Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri, whose portfolio has included hunting since 2020.
BirdLife Malta filed the prohibitory injunction on 3 April, arguing in court that circumstances have worsened since last year, with Turtle dove populations continuing to decline, additional infringement proceedings taken against Malta by the EU and a letter from the EU Commissioner for the Environment Virginijus Sinkevičius lambasting Minister Camilleri for the reintroduction of Turtle dove Spring hunting last year.
In a press conference in front of the prime minister’s office on Thursday, Birdlife said that the vulnerable Turtle dove is still being illegally hunted despite the spring hunting season being open only for Quail, ensuring “that Malta is listed as a cause of extinction of the species rather than one which protects it”.
In a press conference on 30 March, BirdLife also argued that the ORNIS committee’s 29 March recommendation to open a hunting season for the vulnerable species was based on unreliable and incomplete data. A Spring hunting season for Turtle dove was expected to be announced between 17 and 30 April.
During the sitting, the State Advocate argued that the EU’s letter of formal notice was insufficient to prevent a derogation for Turtle dove spring hunting, saying that a reasoned opinion, the next step in EU infringement proceedings, is needed before Malta would have been formally requested to comply.
Since the government had not yet issued a legal notice for a derogation from the EU Birds Directive, the prohibitory injunction prevented them from doing so.
Last year, Birdlife filed a similar court case. At the time, the government had already issued the legal notice for the hunting derogation.
On Tuesday, a request by the Federazzjoni Kaċċaturi Nassaba Konservazzjonisti (FKNK), Malta’s main hunting lobby, to be included as a party to the proceedings was shot down by Judge Grixti, given that the FKNK do not have the authority to open the season or administer hunting in Malta.
On 6 April, through Legal Notice LN/78/2023, the government opted to allow the opening of a spring hunting season for Quail from 10 to 30 April, every day from two hours before sunrise to noon, with a national quota of 2,400 Quail.
It is common knowledge that the opening of the season allows hunters to target protected species as they migrate over Malta. This has been documented year after year without fail.
Catch reporting has been done through an SMS system since 2016, which has been widely ridiculed for its inaccuracy. During the autumn 2022 hunting season, less than four per cent of hunters contributed data to the system. The same data was then used to inform the ORNIS Committee’s recommendations for spring hunting.
In 2015, the IUCN placed the European Turtle dove on its red list of Threatened species, classifying it as vulnerable to extinction. In 2017, the Maltese government placed a moratorium on Turtle dove Spring hunting, only for the decision to be overturned last year by Prime Minister Robert Abela, only weeks before the 2022 general elections.