With the Centre supporting his plea on “humanitarian grounds”, the Supreme Court on Thursday allowed Italian marine Salvatore Girone to return to his country till an international arbitration tribunal decides the jurisdictional issue between India and Italy.
Massimiliano Latorre, the other Italian marine accused of killing two fishermen off the Kerala coast in 2012, was allowed to return to Italy in September 2014 on health grounds. Since then, the Supreme Court has allowed repeated requests for extending his stay.
A vacation bench of Justices P C Pant and D Y Chandrachud granted similar relief to Girone today, after Additional Solicitor General P S Narasimha expressed “support” to the application moved by the Italian government on his behalf.
“We have no objection to the application…we support the application on humanitarian grounds subject to his compliance with the conditions imposed by the court,” Narasimha told the bench.
“For India to be in compliance with the order of the tribunal, binding on it under international law, the Union of India respectfully prays to this hon’ble court to grant the prayer in Republic of Italy’s application to vary the existing bail conditions of Sergeant Girone to enable him to remain on bail in Italy during the arbitration,” said the government in its affidavit.
The bench then permitted Girone’s return to Italy, subject to some conditions. The court asked Girone to file an affidavit “accepting and recognising that he remains and shall, even upon his departure from India, continue to remain under the authority of the Supreme Court of India.”
This condition may not stand the rigour of the principles on territorial jurisdiction and raises questions on whether an Indian court may exercise authority outside India.
Girone was also asked to surrender his passport to the Italian authorities, report to the local police station in Italy regularly, and not make any attempt to influence witnesses or tamper with evidence.
The court said his bail would be cancelled if he was found to have violated any of the conditions imposed.
Further, the Italian ambassador has been directed to file an undertaking before Girone’s departure that he shall be made to return to India within one month of the decision of the arbitral tribunal requiring him to do so, or as directed by the court.
Girone and Latorre, who were on board Enrica Lexie, are accused of killing two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast on February 15, 2012. Italy and India have been making contrary claims over the right to prosecute the two Italian marines in the case.
The court had earlier stayed all criminal proceedings, including the trial of the marines. While allowing the joint request of India and Italy, the apex court had said the proceedings would remain stalled till the jurisdictional issue about which country has the right to conduct trial was decided through international arbitration.
The Centre has informed the court that international arbitration proceedings in the matter would be completed by December 2018.