The spring hunting referendum will be held this year between April and July after it was approved by the Constitutional Court this morning.
In its decision, the Constitutional Court, made up of Chief Justice Silvio Camilleri, Mr Justice Giannino Caruana Demajo and Mr Justice Noel Cuschieri found no grounds for the referendum not to be held.
Soon after the decision was announced, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat tweeted that he took note of the judgement and would take decisions without delay. The people's decision would be respected, he said.
Justice Minister Owen Bonnici said the President was to be informed of the Court's judgement by noon today. She would then have 10 days to decide on the date of the referendum, based on the Prime Minister's advice. The Prime Minister is expected to give the President his opinion soon.
The government, he said, would be sticking to its commitment to have the referendum and local elections held on the same day so the date of the latter would be moved accordingly.
The Nationalist Party however said that the President did not need the Prime Minister's advice to come up with the date of a referendum.
This evening, however, the ministry published advice given by the Attorney General saying that the Referenda Act could not ignore the Constitution which clearly stated that the President should act on the advice of Cabinet or a minister acting in line with Cabinet’s authority.
The Constitutional Court case was filed by the hunters federation (FKNK) and St Hubert Hunters (KSU) who requested the court to reject the petition for the holding of a referendum spreading objections over 22 pages.
They argued, among other things, that the referendum could not be held as it breached Malta's EU Treaty obligations.
In its decision, the Court also ordered that the expenses of the case should be born by the FKNK and KSU.
The Coalition for the Abolition of Spring Hunting described the decision as "a clear win for democracy in Malta".It said it was happy to witness history in the making.
The referendum aims to cancel a three-year-old legal notice setting out the rules under which the government can apply a derogation to open a spring hunting season for turtle dove and quail.
If a majority vote for cancellation of the legal notice, the referendum will be the first in 150 years to have been prompted by electors and the only one to cancel a law.
For the result to be valid, voter turnout has to surpass the 50 per cent mark.
The bid for a hunting referendum all started when the majority of environmental organisations as well as the Green Party joined forces to launch a petition last August to collect signatures for the referendum.
The Coalition for the Abolition of Spring Hunting consisted of Alternattiva Demokratika, Birdlife, the Coalition for Animal Rights, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Friends of the Earth Malta, the Gaia Foundation, Greenhouse, International Animal Rescue Malta, the Malta Organic Agriculture Movement, Moviment Graffiti, Nature Trust, the Ramblers Association Malta and Youth for the Environment.
In this statement this morning campaign coordinator Romina Tolu said 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.”
The coalition said it now awaited the date of the referendum to be set by the President, following which they would launch their referendum campaign.
The Nationalist Party welcomed the decision and noted that the referendum could be held thanks to a law enacted by the Nationalist government. It was to be held, it said, in spite of the Labour government's attempts to stop it.
The PN hoped the people would exercise their choice freely.
Alternattiva Demokratika chairman Arnold Cassola said the decision brought to an end the secret backroom deals between he Labour and Nationalist politicians and the hunting lobby.