Describing Italy's compromise with the kin of the two Indian fishermen who were shot dead by its marines as “illegal” and “astonishing,” the Supreme Court said on Monday that they were “playing” with the Indian process of law and felt Kerala should have filed an objection.
A Bench of justices R.M. Lodha and H.L. Gokhale was perturbed that the compromise reached between the parties was placed before the Lok Adalat and subsequently a decree was passed under which the victims' kin were to be paid Rs. 1 crore each [wife of one fisherman and sisters of the other] and the owner of the boat Rs. 17 lakh. “By this means, the Indian legal system has been defeated by entering into an agreement with the woman [the victim's wife]. This is something which is not acceptable,” the bench remarked.
“By making her a payment of Rs. 1 crore, her mouth has been locked. The manner in which the entire legal process is sought to be defeated is not permissible… You should have advised the Kerala government not to allow it,” the bench told the former Solicitor General, Gopal Subramanium, appearing for the State.
Mr. Subramanium, however, told the court that the State was not a party to the compromise and reserved the right to challenge it before higher forum.
Senior counsel K.K. Venugopal, appearing for the vessel owner, also told the court that the compromise was reached between the Italian government and the families without the knowledge of the ship's management.
But the submission failed to convince the court which told the counsel: “It can't be without your consent. How can a compromise be reached without any notice to the ship owners.”
The apex court also sought the Italian government's response on releasing the impounded ship with certain conditions after its owner claimed that their detention had cost the company Rs. 200 crore. “How can courts recognise such a suit? It is astonishing. This is void under the civil procedure code. She is also a party in the SLP. This action is illegal.
The apex court expressed surprise that the compromise was reached in an Admiralty suit. “The Admiralty suit goes to Lok Adalat. Admiralty matter cannot be sent to Lok Adalat. I thought having this knowledge, the State would have acted swiftly in challenging it. It [compromise] is a direct challenge to the Indian court. It is an affront to Indian court,” Justice Lodha, heading the bench, observed.
The counsel sought stringent conditions for the release of the ship and the presence of the crew and marine officers. The apex court, however, declined to pass any adverse order against the crew and the four marine officers aboard the vessel on the ground that they too were entitled to liberty under Article 21.