Will accept tribunal ruling in marines case, Centre tells SC

“Award is final as India is a party to the U.N. Convention”

July 04, 2020 12:36 am | Updated 12:36 am IST - NEW DELHI

File photo of Italian Marines Massimiliano Latorre, right, and Salvatore Girone who are accused of killing two fishermen

File photo of Italian Marines Massimiliano Latorre, right, and Salvatore Girone who are accused of killing two fishermen

The Centre informed the Supreme Court on Friday that it has decided to “accept and abide” by an international tribunal’s ruling that the Italian Marines accused of killing two fishermen off the coast of Kerala on February 15, 2012 enjoy immunity and are outside the jurisdiction of Indian courts.

India is bound by the award of the arbitral tribunal formed under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the government said. The award is “final and without appeal,” as India is a party to the U.N. Convention.

Also read | Our full coverage of the Italian Marines issue

The Centre asked the Supreme Court to close all the proceedings concerning the Marines, Salvatore Girone and Massimiliano Latorre. The two were detailed on the Italian ship ‘Enrica Lexie’ when they allegedly shot the fishermen, apparently mistaking them for “pirates.” The Marines, who are now in Italy, will face criminal investigation there. India is entitled to compensation for the loss of life. It’s freedom and right of navigation was violated by the Marines, the tribunal held.

“The Republic of India has taken a decision to accept and abide by the Award passed by the Tribunal which would have a bearing on the continuance of present proceedings before this Court... The applicant [Union of India] is placing the Award on record with a prayer that the proceedings with regard to the incident dated February 15, 2012 be disposed of in conformity with the Award passed by the Tribunal on May 21, 2020,” the government application said.

“Correct move”

Constitutional expert and senior advocate K.V. Vishwanathan said the government’s decision to accept the tribunal decision was a correct move, in tune with Article 51(c) and (d) of the Constitution. “The state needs to foster respect for international law and treaty obligations and encourage settlement of international disputes by arbitration. The award is a substantial victory for India, inasmuch as concurrent jurisdiction was recognised, but immunity clause was applied to take the trial out of India. Compensation claim was allowed and the counter claim for compensation by Italy was denied.”

A 7-year wait

The tribunal’s ruling that the Marines have immunity comes seven years after the Supreme Court ordered the Centre to “proceed with the investigation and trial of the Marines” in a decision on January 18, 2013. The apex court had ordered the Centre to set up a Special Court to try the case. Prior to the Supreme Court verdict, the Kerala High Court too had found that the Marines enjoyed no immunity.

However, in 2014, the Marines had successfully gained a stay order on the investigation by the National Investigation Agency. A year later, the Supreme Court froze its own proceedings when the case reached the International Tribunal on Law of Seas. The apex court later, in September 2015, deferred the case till further orders.

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