Hunters file judicial protest against government, say hunting ban should be revoked

Aggrieved by government’s decision to suspend the hunting season, hunter's federation FKNK takes matters to court  • Claim government is not really interested in safeguarding protected species’ population, say collective punishment is unfair.

Hunters’ federation FKNK has filed a judicial protest against Prime Minister Joseph Muscat following the government’s abrupt decision to temporarily close the autumn hunting season until 10 October.

The decision follows the massacre of birds that took place last week where at least one white stork and four other protected birds were shot dead.

The hunting ban angered hunters who on Sunday took to the streets of Valletta to voice their protest, burning beer cans and Labour flags. At Buskett, the hunters attacked birdwatchers. At least 15 hunters who took part in the protest were called in for questioning on Monday.

Both hunting federations FKNK and Kaccaturi San Umbertu (KSU) denied having had anything to do with Sunday’s demonstration.

In their judicial protest, the hunters’ lobby insisted that the government must revoke its “incorrect and unfair” hunting ban; claiming amongst others that the government “is not really interested in safeguarding the conservation status of the birds that can be legally hunted,” and argued that the “general hunting population should not be made to suffer the consequences of others.”

Questioning the “continuous shooting at protected species,” the hunters argued that it has its reserves as to whether the government’s decision was based on official statistics or on scaremongering.

“Only one hunter has been charged with illegal hunting so far. Whoever shot protected species did not breach the rules of the hunting season, but breached laws which are applicable throughout the whole year.”

“In mixing these two things together, the government has taken up the role as a court of justice too because all hunters have been unfairly penalised, irrespective of whether they were responsible for the illegalities,” the FKNK said.

“These two things are completely separate, because at one hand there are birds which are protected all year round and on the other hand, there are birds which can be legally hunted during certain periods. The protected species are already dwindling and can never be hunted, irrespective of whether the hunting season is open or closed.”

Filed by FKNK officials Joe Perici Calascione and Lino Farrugia against Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, Environment Minister Leo Brincat, the judicial protest goes on to say that “the population and conservation status of birds which can be legally hunted is not being jeopardised by the hunters,” and that this is accepted by the government.

“The fact that the hunting season will again resume from October 10 to January 31, 2015 means that the government is not concerned about the population and the conservation status of the birds that can be legally hunted,” it said.

The FKNK also argued that the government may have acted “beyond its powers, and that it has “serious doubts as to whether its decisions were legal,” claiming that the government should have first established the birds’ conservation status following scientific advice, and that it should have consulted the hunters’ lobby.

“The FKNK is represented in the Ornis Committee and represents 10,000 hunters but notwithstanding this, it was not consulted at any stage before the government took its decision. It was also not informed who is the alleged scientific expert and its advice,” it said.

The hunters also argued that following its decision, the government should be held responsible for amages because FKNK members have already paid for their hunting licence while others booked leave.

Lawyer Kathleen Grima signed the judicial protest.