THE high-profile Indian delegation that visited the Vatican for the canonisation of Mother Teresa last weekend had one member missing at a dinner that comprised senior officials of the Italian government. The delegate, Supreme Court judge Justice Kurian Joseph, returned a few hours later and informed that he had gone to visit a relative.
But Justice Joseph had a professional reason, too, to skip the dinner — he is a member of the bench adjudicating the dispute between India and Italy over the jurisdiction to try two Italian marines for allegedly shooting two fishermen off the Kerala coast in 2012.
Justice Joseph, along with Justices Anil R Dave and Amitava Roy, has been hearing the petition filed by the Italian government as well as the marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone against their trial in India.
The issue of the marines was expected to come up during the dinner interaction, The Indian Express has learnt.
A senior official from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) confirmed the judge’s absence from the dinner in Rome. “Not many officials knew he would not be there for the dinner meeting. So when they found he was not there, they tried to look for him. The Minister (Sushma Swaraj), however, knew,” said the official.
After a few hours, Justice Joseph rejoined the delegation, which also included Minister of Food Processing Industries Harsimrat Kaur Badal. “The judge told us that he had missed the dinner because he had to meet a relative in Rome. But for MEA officials, who know the facts of the legal proceedings and are keenly following the case in Supreme Court, it was not difficult to guess the other prime reason,” said the official.
There was another occasion, said the official, when the judge stood out in Rome. He wore a kurta-pyjama during the canonisation ceremony in Vatican City. “Justice Joseph was noticed as he chose to wear a white kurta-pyjama during the ceremony. He told some of the delegates that he would rather wear Indian clothes to showcase the culture of the country,” he added.
Justice Joseph also visited Pope Francis in the Vatican along with Swaraj and Kaur. Swaraj had later tweeted a photo of their meeting with the Pope.
Meanwhile, Italy Thursday made a fresh plea in the Supreme Court for modification of bail conditions of Latorre to enable him remain in Italy till an international tribunal decides on which country has the right to try the case. The bench, that has Justice Joseph on it, will hear this plea on September 20.
After the Indian delegation’s return, MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup had tweeted in response to a query regarding the status of the two Italian marines: “Marines remain under jurisdiction of Supreme Court of India. Matter is under arbitration.”