Thursday, June 7, 2012


My article today is not political but legal. It begs two questions: should the former Chief Minister Peter Caruana be prosecuted for breaking the 1991 Nature Protection Act? And, why didn’t the Royal Gibraltar Police enforce that law from 1997 until the present GSLP Liberal Government was elected to office last November?
Before 1991 Gibraltar was in a state of catch-up with the environmental legislation in the UK and wider Europe. However that year the GSLP Government presented the Nature Protection Act before the Rock’s parliament. It was then duly passed in to law and has been the law of Gibraltar ever since.
With regards to fishing the law specifically prohibits the use of seine and gill nets in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters. Seabed raking and the use of artificial lights for attracting fish are also illegal under the aforementioned Act.  These methods, including drift nets as well as long lines, are used by Spanish fishermen in our waters.
Between 1991 and 1997 the Act was enforced by the Royal Gibraltar Police.  While some fishing occurred, this was without sanction and the Police effected arrests and prosecutions on a number of occasions. It was following such an arrest, a campaign was started by Spanish fishermen to press the Gibraltar Government to allow them to fish.  In 1999, after the fishermen blockaded the Gibraltar frontier, a ‘Joint Understanding’ was accepted by the fishing federations of the border town of La Línea as well as Algeciras across the bay and the then Chief Minister Peter Caruana. It allowed Spanish fishing vessels to fish in Gibraltar’s waters using methods illegal under the Nature Protection Act 1991.
However this document, if that is what it was, was illegal because it contravened the 1991 Nature Protection Act. It would have been very simply for Caruana to have legalised what he had agreed with the fishermen. As he assures us he had them biting out of his hand all he had to do was to tell them to have patience whilst he took an amendment to the 1991 Nature Protection Act to the then House of Assembly for approval. Once that process had been done the accord would have become part of Gibraltar’s law.
Yet Caruana failed to do that. Either he decided to ignore the House out of shere arrogance or rather than the fishermen eating out of his hand like tame Koi Carp they had held him over a fish barrel. Hence he knew that revealing the terms of the agreement would have caused outrage in Gibraltar and maybe against that scenario he could not count on the support of his GSD team. Who knows? Well Caruana does!
The Chief Minister Fabian Picardo has made it clear to all who will listen that neither he nor his government have any power over the actions of the RGP. Indeed our Minister for the Environment, Dr John Cortes, reinforced that stance in a recent interview with me for the London Progressive Journal on the environmental implications of the current situation.
That being the case the Royal Gibraltar Police also have questions to answer. I am fully aware that the front line officers bravely enforced the Act before 1997 and have been so doing again in recent weeks. Yet what of the Commissioner? Why did he decide not to enforce the law of Gibraltar between 1998 and the former Chief Minister Peter Caruana leaving office? Was he ordered not to do so by Caruana who has no control of the force? Or was he ordered not to do so by the Convent in contravention of the law passed by Gibraltar’s parliament. We need to know.
If I park my car illegally in Gibraltar it is towed away and I am fined according to the law. If I walk down Main Street and punch a passerby on the nose I will be arrested by the RGP and brought to trial. If I walk in to a bank and attempt to rob it I will be bundled away in a police car and find myself before a judge: if found guilty I am sent to jail.
So finally to Peter Caruana himself. We are all equal in the eyes of the law so if we break the laws of Gibraltar it is logical we end up in court. As the former Chief Minister seemingly broke the law of Gibraltar by reaching an accord with the Spanish fishermen, which he then imposed over the 1991 Nature Protection Act that was and still is the law of Gibraltar, what sanction will be imposed?
As I said at the start of this article this is not a political matter it is a legal one. In theory as Peter Caruana appears to have broken the law of Gibraltar as well as possibly influencing others not to enforce the law of Gibraltar then this is a matter that should be heard and ruled on in the courts of Gibraltar. Unless of course there is one law for the hoi polloi and another for former Chief Ministers.