Maltese finch trapping case at EU courts next week

EU Court of Justice will next week hear case over government's decision to re-open finch trapping season  

Finch trapping was banned in 2009 but re-introduced in 2014
Finch trapping was banned in 2009 but re-introduced in 2014

The European Court of Justice will next week hold its hearing on finch trapping in Malta, a practice that was banned following Malta’s accession to the EU but re-introduced by the Labour government. The hearing will be held on 15 February, although a judicial decision could take months to arrive.  

The European Commission officially referred Malta to the EU courts in September 2015, after the government ignored its formal warnings.

Trapping of all birds is prohibited by EU law and was phased out and eventually banned in Malta in 2009, in line with its EU accession treaty. However, the Labour government in 2014 reintroduced the trapping of seven species of wild finches – on the assumption that it can justly derogate from EU law in a similar fashion to spring hunting.

This is because an article in the EU Birds Directive allows EU member states from the ban “where there is no other satisfactory solution…to permit, under strictly supervised conditions and on a selective basis, the capture, keeping or other judicious use of certain birds in small numbers”.

However, the European’s Environment Commission – spearheaded by former Labour minister Karmenu Vella - has argued that the traditional Maltese use of clap nets is a non-selective trapping style, and that trapping birds for leisure does not constitute a “judicious” reason to derogate. 

The Maltese government will be represented at the courts by the Attorney General – who has been aided by local law firm CCX Advocates and global law firm Stibbe. The European Commission will be represented by Maltese lawyer Ken Mifsud Bonnici and German lawyer Christoph Hermes, both legal advisors on environmental law.

In a Facebook post, BirdLife Malta decried the practice of finch trapping, warning that the birds are kept in small cages for hours in order to attract more finches to the trapping sites.

“The stress of being handled, transported and kept in a confined space is often fatal,” it said. 

Hunting federation FKNK has sent over 11,000 letters –each individually signed by a Maltese trapper - to Karmenu Vella, urging him to safeguard the “sociocultural tradition” of trapping.

“Back in September, Vella had ensured the FKNK that he will send us a general response to the letters,” FKNK chief executive Lino Farrugia said in a statement. “As soon as we receive his response, we will publish it for the benefit of the thousands of citizens who have signed and sent a letter.” 

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