The Supreme Court on Friday allowed the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to probe the case against two Italian marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen and asked the special court to conduct the trial on a day-to-day basis after the charge sheet was filed.
A Bench headed by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir clarified that the special court, set up by the Centre for this case, would not take up any other matter and would complete the trial as soon as possible.
The Bench, comprising Justices A.R. Dave and Vikramajit Sen, said the two marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone would remain in the custody of the apex court till the trial was completed.
The Italian government objected to the NIA handling the case, claiming the agency had no jurisdiction, and sought that the case be probed by CBI.
The Italian government had approached the apex court, stating that the charges slapped on the marines were not covered by the NIA Act.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Italian government, had submitted that the NIA could probe the case only if charges under the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against Safety of Maritime Navigation and Fixed Platforms on Continental Shelf Act (SUA), 2002, were also slapped against the marines and the same could not be done in view of the apex court verdict to prosecute them only under the IPC, the Cr.P.C, the Maritime Zones Act and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
The two marines were on board Italian vessel ‘Enrica Lexie’ when they had allegedly shot dead two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast on February 15 last year.
Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati had on April 16 objected to the Italian government’s contention. He said the NIA could probe the case and assured the court that the investigation would be completed in 60 days.
“The NIA is not restricted under the NIA Act. The CBI is extremely overburdened and the government chose the NIA as an institution to probe the case,” Mr. Vahanvati said.
The Italian government and its marines had contended that the probe and prosecuting power could not be entrusted to the NIA as it would lead to a deviation from the spirit of the January 18 judgement and compel the agency to include the provisions of the SUA, which contains the provision of the death sentence.
“In this case, the NIA cannot exist without the SUA and the SUA cannot exist without the NIA,” Mr. Rohatgi said, drawing the apex court’s attention to the original FIR filed by the Kollam Police, in which the SUA was not invoked.
He said the SUA was later included but dropped from the charge sheet filed before the magistrate in Kollam.
Mr. Rohatgi said the NIA took up the case in accordance with the April 1 notification and proceeded on the basis of the Kollam FIR by adding the SUA.
However, Mr. Vahanvati said the April 1 notification had been superseded by the April 15 notification and the NIA had been as a Central institution, akin to the CBI, to probe and prosecute the case of the marines.
“The NIA is a Central institution. The NIA will proceed in the spirit of the January 18 order. The NIA will complete investigation in 60 days.
“[That the agency] cannot be brought [into this case] is a complete misconception,” Mr. Vahanvati said.
He also informed the Bench about the steps taken for setting up the special court exclusively to deal with the case at hand.
The Bench said the intention of its January 18 order was that the matter should be dealt with as expeditiously as possible by the special court