Man fined €3,000, has hunting licence suspended, after shooting birds in closed season

The case dates back to 2017 after police received a report of hunting activity near Xgħajra

A man from Żabbar has been fined €3,000 and had his hunting licence suspended after being found guilty of having hunted birds during the closed season, 5 years ago.

The case dates back to Sunday 23 April 2017, when the police had received a report of hunting activity near Xgħajra, from BirdLife volunteers who had been observing the annual Spring bird migration. 

As the hunting season had officially closed 9 days before, and seeing two men with hunting shotguns, the volunteers had started filming, capturing footage of a large bird overflying the hunters’ hide and one of the men standing up and firing a shot at it.

Despite finding nobody at the scene when they arrived, the police had subsequently arrested Simon Camilleri after recognising him from the footage. While in custody, Camilleri had refused to consult a lawyer and had signed a declaration in which he admitted to being one of the men in the video, while claiming not to know which shotgun had been used or the identity of the man who had been with him in the hide.

The prosecution had exhibited a judgement from 2013 in which Camilleri had been given a suspended sentence and had his hunting licence permanently revoked after he admitted to several offences relating to illegal hunting.

In court, one of the Birdlife volunteers present had positively identified the accused as being one of the men she had seen shooting that day. 

Camilleri chose to testify in the latest case against him, declaring under oath that during his interrogation, he had never confessed to having been hunting that day. He explained that when he had been shown the footage, he had replied “didn’t I come? Isn’t that enough? Fullstop.” From the witness stand, the accused also denied that he was the person in the footage.

In her judgement, Magistrate Elaine Mercieca noted that the court had heard evidence showing that the incident had taken place in the closed season and that the accused did not have a licence for hunting in Spring. The magistrate had also examined the footage and stills exhibited, noting that it showed two men holding shotguns, while in a hunting hide, together with a dog. The footage also shows the men shooting at a bird.

As the men had been captured on camera shooting at a bird during the closed season, there was no doubt that this hunting activity was illegal, said the magistrate. However, in order for guilt to be found, one the hunters in the footage had to be identified as the accused, said the court.

Taking into account the established principles and jurisprudence on “dock identifications” and the testimony of the BirdLife volunteer who identified the accused in the dock, as well as the clear and well lit footage - in which the hunter is seen to look directly at the camera several times- and the statement he had made during his interrogation, the court said it was satisfied that one of the persons in footage was the accused.

Camilleri was cleared of charges relating to breaches of his hunting and weapons licences because no evidence had been exhibited to prove that he had been issued these licences in the first place.  He was also acquitted of illegal bird trapping, as no evidence of this offence had been presented to the court.

The magistrate acquitted Camilleri of recidivism, pointing out that no evidence showing that his previous convictions were final or when the sentences had been served.

In her considerations on punishment, the magistrate said she had taken into account the nature of the offences he was being found guilty of, as well as his criminal record which indicated several previous findings of guilt in connection with breaches of hunting regulations.

Camilleri was fined €3,000, payable in monthly instalments of €200, and ordered the suspension of his hunting licence for the next four years.