Will close case against Marines only after Italy paid compensation, says SC

The Supreme Court on Friday said it would order the closure of criminal proceedings against the two Italian Marines accused of killing fishermen off the coast of Kerala only after Italy paid ₹10 crore as compensation for the victims’ families.

Earlier in the hearing, both the Centre and Kerala informed a Bench led by Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde that the families had “happily” agreed to the compensation. This amount was over and above the ex gratia amount Italy had paid them earlier.

“The trial court do not have the authority to close the proceedings. The trial can be closed only by the Supreme Court,” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted for the government.

The apex court directed that the Republic of Italy should transfer the compensation amount to an account number which would be handed over to it by the Ministry of External Affairs. The Ministry would in turn deposit the money with the Supreme Court. The apex court would directly disburse the compensation amount to the families. The court has fixed a hearing date for Friday next, by which time the money should be deposited in the apex court.

It was Kerala which raised the point that the compensation should be deposited with the Supreme Court before the closure of the criminal trials.

“We have consulted with the families and they have agreed [to the compensation and closure of criminal trial in India] ... But the money should be deposited in the Supreme Court before the proceedings are quashed,” senior advocate Jaideep Gupta, for Kerala government, said.

The CJI agreed, saying “we are going to ask the amount to be paid in the Supreme Court, only after that, it [criminal proceedings] will be closed.”

Advocate Suhail Dutt, for Italy, said his client was “waiting for the MEA to give an account number ... we will transfer the money.”

The Marines, Salvatore Girone and Massimiliano Latorre, were detailed on the Italian ship Enrica Lexie when they allegedly shot the fishermen thinking they were “pirates” in 2012. The Marines, who are in Italy now, will face criminal investigation there.

Tribunal award

The apex court hearing is based on an application filed by the Centre informing the Supreme Court that it has decided to “accept and abide” by an international tribunal’s award that the Marines enjoy immunity from prosecution in India. The government said India was bound by the award of the arbitral tribunal formed under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). It said the tribunal award was “final and without appeal.”

The international tribunal’s finding 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, had deferred the case till further orders.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 4:32:16 AM |

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