Watchdog looks into magistrate’s ‘inappropriate’ recommendations on bird trapping

The Commission for the Administration of Justice will be investigating comments made by Magistrate Joe Mifsud in a court decree on illegal trapping

Magistrate Joe Mifsud
Magistrate Joe Mifsud

The Commission for the Administration of Justice is to investigate comments made by Magistrate Joe Mifsud by way of “recommendations” on bird trapping he made in a court decree on illegal trapping.

The CAJ’s committee for judges and magistrates has started taking statements for its investigation, after BirdLife Malta filed its protest on the court decree back in December 2018.

The CAJ is tasked with supervising the workings of the courts and exercising discipline on judges and magistrates, among other functions.

Court sources who spoke with MaltaToday said the CAJ’s subcommittee had scheduled a first meeting to take place in May.

Mifsud’s decree was delivered ahead of a sentence in which a man accused of illegal trapping was cleared of all charges. In it Mifsud, who is tasked with cases in the Gozo courts, included a number of recommendations seemingly addressed to the Maltese authorities, related to the size of nets used to trap songbirds – a technical detail that seemed far removed from the case in hand.

Mifsud argued that the recently introduced wider sizes for trapping nets – which have bigger holes to allow certain birds to escape entrapment – constituted a “form of abuse” since birds were injured trying to remove themselves from it.

The comment was connected to actions taken earlier in the year after the European Court of Justice ruled against Malta for failing to fulfil the conditions necessary to derogate from the EU’s ban on the trapping of finches. The legal changes were in October 2018 as part of an agreement with the European Commission for a new derogation from the Birds Directive.

As a result of the agreement, the minimum net mesh size was increased from 30mm to 45mm.

But in his decree, which was officially communicated to the Ornis Committee, the Wild Birds Regulation Unit and the parliamentary secretary in charge of hunting, Mifsud argued that once the law allows for live birds to be caught, it must also ensure they are caught with the least damage possible.

“One understands that the legislator’s intention was to minimise abuse by making it difficult to catch small birds but if abuse is to be cut down, surveillance has to be increased,” he said.

The magistrate’s observations were, however, considered “totally inappropriate” by BirdLife CEO Mark Sultana, who said at the time that Mifsud had “opted to go beyond the sentencing of the case and come up with an unfounded opinion in relation to the size of the nets”.

The NGO had pointed out that Mifsud’s recommendations echoed arguments against the new regulations made by the hunting lobby.

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