The Supreme Court Friday refused to pass any order on the Centre’s plea seeking closure of cases against two Italian marines, who are facing charges of killing two Indian fishermen in February 2012. The court said it would not pass any order without hearing the victims’ families who should be given adequate compensation.
Subsequently, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde set a deadline of one week for the Centre to file a fresh plea making the victims’ family members parties to its application for seeking closure of Italian Marines case.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta informed the bench, also comprising Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, that Italy has assured the Indian government that it would prosecute the Marines. When the bench insisted that adequate compensation should be paid to the family members of the victims, Mehta said the Centre will ensure that maximum compensation is given to them.
At the outset, the bench said it appreciates the steps taken by Italy to prosecute these marines but the court is on the issue of adequate compensation which should be paid to the victims’ family. It said, “We want that adequate compensation be paid to the victims’ family.”
The top court referred to the case against the Italian Marines pending before the special court and said that without applying for withdrawal of prosecution there how the Centre can come here seeking the closure. To this, Mehta replied the top court had earlier said that proceedings on the special court be kept in abeyance.
The bench said, “You can apply for withdrawal of prosecution there. The victims’ families will have the right to oppose it. The victims’ families are not even a party here.”
It said, “We will not pass any order without the victims’ family being heard”, and allowed the Solicitor General to implead family members of the victims as party in its closure application.
On July 3, the Centre moved the top court seeking closure of judicial proceedings in India against the two Italian marines, arguing that it has accepted the recent ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at the Hague, which held that India is entitled to get compensation in the case but can’t prosecute the marines due to official immunity enjoyed by them.
Known as the Enrica Lexie incident, it took place in February 2012, when the Italian oil tanker Enrica Lexie, traveling off the coast of Kerala was approached by an Indian fishing vessel. Two Italian marines onboard fired what Italy contends were warning shots at the ship. Two fishermen, Ajesh Binki and Valentine, were killed. India, however, says the vessel was fired at without notice.
Italian marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone returned from India to Italy on September 13, 2014 and May 28, 2016, respectively.
In a close 3:2 vote, the tribunal ruled that the Italian marines enjoyed diplomatic immunity as Italian state officials under the United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea. Taking note of the “commitment expressed by Italy” to resume its criminal investigation into the incident, the tribunal said India must cease to exercise its jurisdiction.
Italy had approached the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, an arbitral tribunal under the International Court of Justice in 2015, and the matter was heard by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in July 2019.
Following the ruling, the Italian Foreign ministry had said, “Italian Marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone are entitled to immunity from the jurisdiction of Indian courts in relation to the acts occurred during the incident of 15 February 2012; India is therefore precluded from exercising its jurisdiction over the Marines. The Arbitral Tribunal has therefore agreed on the Italian position that the Marines, being members of the Italian armed forces in the official exercise of their duties, cannot be tried by Indian courts.”
Acknowledging the breach of freedom of navigation, it said, “As a result of the breach, India is entitled to payment of compensation in connection with loss of life, physical harm, material damage to property and moral harm suffered by the captain and other crew members of the Indian fishing boat St. Anthony.”
With PTI inputs