Update 2 | Court accepts urgency appeal and appoints turtle dove spring hunt case for tomorrow

The court has accepted the State Advocate's request for the case to close the turtle dove spring hunting season to be heard with urgency bringing the sitting date forward to 14 April

The shooting of turtle dove cannot start on Sunday when the spring hunting season opens since the court has provisionally upheld an injunction requested by BirdLife Malta
The shooting of turtle dove cannot start on Sunday when the spring hunting season opens since the court has provisionally upheld an injunction requested by BirdLife Malta

Updated at 2:50pm with court decision to hear case with urgency

A judge has upheld the State Advocate's request to hold an urgent hearing of BirdLife Malta's application for an injunction which would stop the opening of the spring hunting season for turtle dove.

The judge had previously granted a provisional injunction until the first sitting, which had been scheduled for Tuesday, two days after the start of the season. The State Advocate had subsequently filed an urgent application, requested the case be heard before the season opened.

The first sitting is now expected to be held tomorow, 14 April at 9am, three days before the opening of the spring hunting season.

The spring hunting season starts on 17 April and ends on 30 April. During that period hunters are allowed to shoot quail and turtle dove with a bag limit of 1,500 for the latter.

BirdLife is asking the court to stop the shooting of turtle dove in the spring hunting season, arguing this breaches EU rules.

The case to hear the merits of BirdLife’s request had previously been set to be heard on Tuesday 19 April, two days after the start of the hunting season.

This meant that although the hunting season would open on Sunday, it would have been illegal for hunters to shoot turtle dove until the court delivered its final ruling. Quail hunting was not affected by the decree.

The injunction was filed against the Prime Minister, the Environment Minister, the Gozo Minister and the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU), which is responsible for overseeing hunting regulations.

BirdLife contends that the Maltese government’s decision to lift a moratorium on the hunting of turtle dove in spring further threatens the existence of the species, which is deemed vulnerable, and violated EU law.

In 2017, Malta introduced a moratorium on turtle dove hunting in spring after the European Commission threatened legal action. The bird had been declared a vulnerable species in 2015.

As yet, turtle dove can be shot in autumn but bag limits had been halved given the species’ vulnerable status.

EU law does not allow hunting in spring but Malta has been applying a derogation for the hunting of turtle dove and quail following a European Court judgment that left the door ajar.

A referendum in 2015 organised by BirdLife for an outright ban on spring hunting was narrowly defeated.


Commenting on the court decree this morning, BirdLife Malta President Darryl Grima said the organisation was satisfied that the court understood the urgency of the matter. “Our law courts are also European law courts with full powers provided to them by the European Union’s Directives. As a Member State we need to abide by EU regulations and directives and the local courts are a way for any citizen and civil society to seek remedy for breaches of the European Directives, including the EU Birds Directive,” he said.

In a statement issued this morning, BirdLife Malta said it will be writing to the Commissioner of Police and the Head of the WBRU “to ensure that they are aware of this development and that no one can hunt turtle doves this spring before the case is decided on Tuesday.

The organisation stressed that anyone hunting for turtle dove will therefore be breaking the law. “WBRU has the responsibility and obligation to inform all hunters about this decision.”

Lawyers Mark Soler, Claire Bonello and Philip Manduca are assisting BirdLife Malta in court proceedings.

READ ALSO: Malta misled European task force over turtle dove spring hunt

State Advocate sought urgent hearing

Meanwhile, Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri, responsible for the WBRU, had announced that the State Advocate filed a court request for the case to be heard with urgency before Tuesday. Camilleri said the request was filed today in view of the court’s ruling to provisionally uphold the injunction.

Hunting organisation FKNK, also filed a submission to be included in the case as a major representative of hunters.

In a statement, Kaċċaturi San Ubertu called BirdLife's action a "vile attempt" and offered its support to government and the minister responsible for hunting, adding it will persist with its studies on turtle dove to further strengthen government’s position.