BirdLife Malta files judicial protest against the Government

January 29, 2020 1:11 pm

BirdLife Malta has today filed a judicial protest in Court against the Prime Minister; the Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Planning; and the Minister for Gozo in regard to the decision taken by Prime Minister Robert Abela to place the hunting regulator under the Gozo Ministry.

BirdLife Malta had to resort to legal action since the decision to transfer the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU) under Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri – which BirdLife Malta has already described as diabolical and a purely electoral one – is also in breach of the law.

BirdLife Malta officials briefing the media in front of Court following the presentation of the judicial protest (All photos by Svitlana Shevchuk)

As BirdLife Malta’s judicial protest states, whilst the hunting and trapping remit has been placed under Clint Camilleri’s portolio following the recent change in Cabinet portfolios, Malta’s Environment Protection Act (Chapter 549 of the laws of Malta) specifically states that every reference to a “Minister” points to the Minister responsible for the Environment. It calls on the Environment Minister as responsible for the protection of the environment and for establishing any authority relating to it.

Decision to place hunting and trapping under the Ministry for Gozo is in breach of the law

This means that any legal notice or appointment made by the Gozo Minister in this regard would be in breach of the law since it is the Environment Minister who is legally recognised to act in terms of Malta’s environmental laws.

The Wild Birds Regulation Unit is regulated by the Conservation of Wild Birds Regulations (Subsidiary Legislation 549.42) which fall under the Environment Protection Act. Even here, every mention of the word “Minister” is deemed to refer to the Environment Minister.

BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana

We are therefore requesting the Government and the Prime Minister to reverse this decision and ensure that the Environment Minister is given the powers granted to him by law and that the environment portfolio is assigned to the Minister reponsible for the Environment. This includes WBRU’s remit covering hunting and trapping.

The judicial protest was presented in Court this morning by BirdLife Malta’s lawyers Dr Philip Manduca and Dr Leslie Cuschieri. Following its presentation, BirdLife Malta officials briefed the media on these latest developments.

Whilst it is now clear that the law entrusts only the Environment Minister to enforce the legislation and regulations in terms of wild birds, it is also very clear that the Government has deliberately breached the law when taking its decision: a vote-catching decision taken for no other reason than to appease the hunting and trapping lobby.

BirdLife Malta President Darryl Grima

WBRU’s poor record under Clint Camilleri
There are, however, several other reasons why the Hon. Clint Camilleri should not be entrusted once again with the enforcement of the wild birds regulations. Apart from the fact that he is a hunter himself, the absolute failure in terms of enforcement during his tenure at the helm of the Parliamentary Secretariat responsible for WBRU speaks for itself and continued to worsen after he took over from the Hon. Roderick Galdes.

WBRU was set up in 2013, assuming enforcement powers in 2015 by changing legislation without any public consultation whatsoever.

Since its inception, WBRU took over the enforcement support role to police from ERA, resulting in a dramatic decrease in enforcement effort on bird protection regulations it is duty bound to safeguard. Statistics published by WBRU itself show a downgrade in prosecutions and punishments to the hunting community – from 677 fines dished in 2015 to just 47 in 2018; from 70 inspections on taxidermy collections in 2015 to just 11 in 2018, and from assistance in courts resulting in 90 convictions in 2016 to just 27 in 2018.  Seizures of stuffed birds kept illegally went down from 1,046 specimens in 2013 to just 46 specimens in 2018.

The Specialist Enforcement Branch of WBRU has in 2019 resulted in zero staff allocated to this unit, after a history of officers employed with the unit, resigned from their respective posts.

WBRU also introduced a reform on the game reporting system for hunters (used to regulate hunting effort and derogations) and effectively removed a fine system for non-reporting hunting game, resulting in a poor participation of just 9% of the hunting community reporting what they catch. Such statistics form the basis of derogations to the Birds Directive for spring hunting and trapping.

Read the Maltese version of the press release here. Read the judicial protest here.