A special court in Mumbai has partly allowed the guilty plea filed by 117 Somalia nationals accused of piracy. The court will now decide on the acceptance of the voluntary guilty pleas at the time of recording the statements of the accused at a later stage of the ongoing trial.
“The applications are partly allowed. The plea of guilt of the accused is taken on record and acceptance of the same is deferred till the statement under Section 313 of the Criminal Procedure Code is recorded when the probative value of such supplementary pleas of guilt would be ascertained,” the order passed by special Judge V V Kathare states.
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In 2011, 120 Somalia nationals had been apprehended by the Coast Guard and the Navy off the Lakshadweep coast. Lodged at Taloja prison in Navi Mumbai, two of the accused died in judicial custody. The court had last month received applications from 117 Somalia nationals made through the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Somalia, while two accused have refused to plead guilty.
In countries where similar trials of Somalia nationals on charges of piracy have been conducted, there have been plea deals where after the punishment is announced by the courts, the accused are repatriated to Somalia to undergo the remaining imprisonment term. A source said while such a provision under a bilateral agreement has not been made between Somalia and India so far, it is under process.
At the time of the arguments on the applications, advocate Vishwajeet Singh, representing the Somalia embassy, had said the applications to plead guilt were not part of a plea bargain. Singh also argued that the accused will not be cross-examining witnesses or appealing against the punishment unless the court sentenced the men to death. Among the accused, all of whom are charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 50 could face death on charges of murder.
Special public prosecutor Ranjeet Sangle, while arguing on the pleas, had said the decision on the pleas should not be made before the examination of witnesses. In the past three years, 75 witnesses have been examined with only five witnesses remaining, he had said. Sangle told the court that depending on the deposition made by the accused, a decision on their pleas should be taken.