BirdLife loses court battle to stop turtle dove spring hunt

A court has rejected BirdLife Malta's request for an injunction to prevent the spring hunting for turtle dove this year

A judge has rejected BirdLife Malta’s application for an injunction that would have prevented the opening of the spring hunting season for turtle dove this year.

The judgement was delivered by Mr. Justice Giovanni Grixti, presiding over the First Hall of the Civil Court, this morning, final submissions having been heard on Friday.

The injunction had previously been provisionally upheld pending the hearing of the case, a normal practice with warrants of prohibitory injunction. 

The judge ruled that, notwithstanding the submissions made by BirdLife’s lawyers, the respondents were correct in claiming the impossibility of the court action on the grounds that the same merits had already been decided upon by the Court last year.

The court noted that BirdLife’s lawyer had submitted that the organisation has the legal right to file such injunctions and would continue to exercise this right.

Mr. Justice Grixti's decision states that BirdLife Malta’s intent had been clearly declared in its application, when it claimed that the rejection of its 2022 injunction application had completely ignored its submissions regarding the judgments of the Court of Justice of the European Union dealing with issues of access to justice for non-governmental organisations in the environmental field, or make reference to the rights enjoyed by environmental organisations under the 1998 Aarhus Convention, which had been raised by the organisation’s lawyers during their submissions.

This, said the judge, meant that the organisation treated the injunction application as an appeal. “Therefore it couldn’t be clearer than this when an appeal on a decree about an application for a warrant of prohibitory injunction is not appealable.”

The 2022 decision had not denied that application on the grounds of the organisation’s rights under the Aarhus convention, but due to lack of evidence of a prima facie right to be protected, said the court.

The judge said that in 2022, judicial notice had been taken of the technical report submitted by the Wild Birds Regulation Unit which concluded that the Turtle-dove reference population had “improved its short-term trend status from Decreasing to Stable ... and remained Stable in the long-term trend....” 

Noting that the WBRU had again reported the Turtle-dove population as stable this year, the judge concluded that as the situation was reportedly the same as it had been in 2022, the subject matter of the injunction was also the same and so led to the same judicial outcome.

In March, the government’s Ornis committee recommended the opening of the spring hunting season for quail and turtle dove within set national limits.

The Ornis committee is tasked with advising the minister responsible for hunting on issues concerning the conservation of wild birds. This includes decisions on bird hunting seasons and the authorisation of any derogations.

After the committee gave the go ahead for the hunting season to open, BirdLife Malta took the government to court and requested a prohibitory injunction that would prevent the government from issuing the legal notice that would officially open the spring hunting season for the turtle dove.

The judgement rejecting this request means that the minister can now issue the legal notice and open the spring hunting season for turtle dove.

BirdLife, FKNK react

BirdLife said it was disappointed with the outcome, adding that the court relied solely on the Wild Birds Regulation Unit's (WBRU) reports on the turtle dove's population, which uses scientific data up until 2018. 

"We are seeing the result of having a politically motivated unit such as the WBRU who despite having data that shows the real status of the turtle-dove, opts to select specific data sets with the aim to portray a situation that is different than reality," BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana said.

"Our mission to bring Malta in line with the European Birds Directive and end spring hunting now becomes stronger more than ever."

Meanwhile, the Federation for Hunting and Conservation (FKNK) said it was satisfied by the court decision. "[We] are satisfied that, once again, what is right has prevailed, and the legal notice to open the spring hunting for turtle dove will be issues shortly."

The Ministry for Gozo, which is responsible for hunting, said that the hunting season for turtle dove will be open until 30 April with a national quota of 1,500 turtle doves.

It said there are no individual quotas and every hunted turtle dove has to be reported immediately.

Wild Birds Regulation Unit

Reacting to claims by BirdLife, the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU) said the NGO’s claims were “unjust”, as it had based its decision on the “most recent scientific publications”.

“The latest report shows that the population reference for the Turtle Dove shows that numbers are stable,” the WBRU said.