[WATCH] Hunting referendum to go ahead, CASH: 'Historic day for Malta'

Constitutional Court approves spring hunting referendum • CASH: Historical day for Malta and clear win for democracy

CASH spokesman Carmel Cacopardo (Photo: Ray Attard/MediaToday)
CASH spokesman Carmel Cacopardo (Photo: Ray Attard/MediaToday)
CASH members welcome Constitutional Court's ruling
CASH members welcome Constitutional Court's ruling
'Historic day for Malta' • Video by Ray Attard

The Constitutional Court has given its blessing for a referendum on spring hunting to go ahead after rejecting objections filed by the hunting lobby.

In its judgement handed down this morning, the Court said it rejected the applications filed by hunting lobbyist FKNK and Kaccaturi San Ubertu (KSU), and argued that there was no valid reason to withhold the spring hunting referendum.

The judgement will now be passed to the President of Malta, who will then fix a day for the referendum, a date within three and not later than six months after the Constitutional’s Court decision, effectively meaning that a referendum would be held between April and July.

Describing the decision as “historic,” spokesperson for the coalition Carmelo Cacopardo said the decision was a clear win for democracy in Malta. Addressing the press after the court’s decision, Cacopardo also said the referendum provides a perfect opportunity to put an end to the “backroom deals” between politicians and the hunting lobby.

“This is the end of the secret backroom deals between the Labour and Nationalist Parties and the hunting lobby in Malta. The power to decide is now all in the hands of the Maltese people who will be able to express themselves on spring hunting in a democratic and transparent referendum,” AD chairperson Arnold Cassola said.

Echoing Cassola, the Green Party’s deputy chairperson Carmelo Cacopardo said the CASH is confident that the outcome of the referendum would be a positive one.

However, he underlined that it is of paramount importance for the electorate to vote, arguing that voters now have the “empowerment” to decide the fate of Malta’s spring hunting.

Flanked by several CASH representatives, Cacopardo also explained that due to the fact that the referendum could be held in July, there is a major probability that the spring hunting season will once again open in a few months. Nevertheless, he insisted that any case, “it would be the last spring hunting season in Malta.”

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat tweeted his response to the Constitutional Court's judgement, saying that he would respect the people's decision.

The referendum, which will vote to repeal a legal notice allowing the government to apply for a derogation from the Birds’ Directive which normally protects migratory birds from being hunted during this crucial stage of their life cycle, will be the first one in 150 years to have been prompted by electors and if it goes ahead, the first one to cancel a law.

However, for a referendum result to be valid, voter turnout has to surpass the 50% mark, and if the majority vote in favour of the abolition of spring hunting in Malta, the government would have no choice but to revoke the law allowing it to apply a derogation from the Birds’ Directive.

The Coalition for the Abolition of Spring Hunting said it was happy to witness history in the making.

“The process which has led to this morning’s decision by the courts was a particularly lengthy one, in which the hunting lobby tried to delay and mislead the people and the courts time and time again. It is now crystal clear that the legislation in question is not an EU treaty obligation and it is more than evident that the hunting lobby were clutching at loose strings from the start,” Romina Tolu, campaign coordinator for CASH, said.

The decision will place power in the hands of the Maltese electorate to express themselves on an important national issue that CASH has claimed will put an end to the concessions and backroom deals made between politicians and the hunting lobby at the cost of migratory birds.

Malta’s derogation of the Birds’ Directive has been applied since 2010, and has allowed the country’s hunters the possibility of a limited spring hunting season for turtle dove and quail - prompting furore among the international hunting community as well as 33 MEPs who demanded an end to Malta’s abuse of Birds Directive.

However, Malta’s lax laws on hunting as well as the hunting community’s political leverage over Malta’s major political parties hindered any real chances of the Maltese government closing the spring hunting season.

Coupled with Malta’s blatant abuse of the Birds’ Directive, a surge in illegal hunting proved to be the final straw for Maltese environmentalists and in August 2013, the Alternattiva Demokratika joined forced with 13 NGOs to join the Coalition Against Spring Hunting (CASH) and launch a nationwide petition to collect signatures for an abrogative referendum on spring hunting.

A total of 41,194 signatures in favour of a referendum were collected - easily surpassing the Electoral Commission’s threshold of 33,418 votes. After verifying the signatures, the Electoral Commission passed them on the Constitutional Court, requesting a referendum.

If it goes ahead and a majority would vote for the abolition of spring hunting, it would be the first one 150 years to have been prompted by electors and the first one to cancel a law.

However, for a referendum result to be valid, voter turnout has to surpass the 50% mark, and if the majority vote in favour of the abolition of spring hunting in Malta, the government would have no choice but to revoke the law allowing it to apply a derogation from the Birds’ Directive.

In a brazen attempt to substantiate its opposition to the referendum, the hunting lobby launched a petition so it would not be possible to hold an abrogative referendum that impinges the rights of “the hunting minority.”

And in June, the “hunting minority” presented a petition containing over 104,000 signatures to parliament. The petition was however dismissed because it had no legal value.

Echoing CABS's objections to the hunters' "illogical" arguments, the government filed a writ before the Constitutional Court arguing that the process was legal, while on its part, the Nationalist Party said it fully believed in the right of the electorate to use the referendum instrument to vote against a law.

However, the Constitutional Court, presided by Chief Justice Silvio Camilleri and judges Giannino Caruana Demajo and Noel Cuschieri, rejected the PN’s application because it was submitted after a deadline for the submission of arguments.

No comment from pro-hunting activists

Asked for his reaction to the Court’s decision to go ahead with the referendum Lino Farrugia, General Secretary for Federazzjoni Kaccaturi Nassaba Konservazzjonisti (FKNK), said that he would offer no comment to MaltaToday.

Mark Mifsud Bonnici, President of Kaccaturi San Ubertu (KSU), while not refusing outright, said the KSU would not be commenting to the media until an official Committee meeting will be held later on. 

Conservationist organisations react

The Coalition for the Abolition of Spring Hunting welcomed the Constitutional Court’s positive decision made this morning in court to allow a referendum on spring hunting to take place, “in a clear win for democracy in Malta”.

“We are happy to witness history in the making, history which would not have been possible without the support and signatures of over 40,000 Maltese voters, people who want to see change happen in Malta, who have pledged to make the Maltese environment better and are true leaders of change,” CASH said.

Romina Tolu, Campaign Coordinator for the Coalition said that the process leading to today’s decision a particularly lengthy one, beset with continuous attempts by the hunting lobby to delay the process and mislead the public. “It is now crystal clear that the legislation in question is not an EU treaty obligation and it is more than evident that the hunting lobby were clutching at loose strings from the start,” said Tolu.

The Coalition describes the decision as one which “places power in the hands of the Maltese electorate to express themselves on an important national issue is nothing but a positive opportunity for democracy in Malta.” The organisation expressed its hopes that this would see an end to what it described as the concessions and backroom deals between politicians and the hunting lobby.

The Coalition said it will launch its campaign once the date for the referendum is set by the President.

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