Fishermen killing: SC orders closure of court proceedings in India against two Italian marines

The government’s plea sought to stop the criminal trial and other proceedings against them following a United National tribunal decision that the duo would be tried in Italy.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the closure of court proceedings in India against two Italian marines detailed on the vessel Enrica Lexie, who allegedly killed two fishermen off the Kerala coast after mistaking them for pirates in 2012.

A Bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and M.R. Shah agreed to the government’s plea to stop the criminal trial and other proceedings against the marines, Salvatore Girone and Massimiliano Latorre, following a United Nation tribunal decision that the duo would be tried in Italy.

The court recorded that Italy has transferred ₹10 crore to India as compensation for the bereaved families of the fishermen. The families have noted their satisfaction with the amount. The money has already been transferred to the Supreme Court Registry by the Ministry of External Affairs.

The court said there was a general consensus among the stakeholders in the case, and it too felt, that ₹10 crore, over and above the ex gratia amounts the families had received earlier, was a “reasonable amount of compensation”. Justice Shah, who read out the order, concluded that this was a “fit case to close all proceedings in India”.

The Bench ordered the amount to be transferred from the Supreme Court Registry to the Kerala High Court. The Supreme Court asked the Chief Justice of Kerala High Court to nominate a judge to hear the families of the two deceased fishermen and disburse ₹ 4 crore each to their rightful legal heirs. The Bench said care should be taken that the money reached the heirs and was not “diverted” into wrong hands. The balance ₹ 2 crore, the court ordered, would be paid to the owner of the fishing boat which came under attack from the marines.

The court urged Italy to resume the criminal proceedings against the marines in compliance with the U.N. tribunal. It asked Italy, India and the State of Kerala to cooperate with each other to bring justice in the case.

On April 9, the Supreme Court had told the Centre that it would consider passing an order to quash the criminal proceedings only after Italy deposited ₹10 crore as compensation.

For Italy, advocate Suhail Dutt, submitted that India’s jurisdiction over the marines had stopped as soon as Italy paid the compensation amount.

The court had later on expressed concern about whether the money received as compensation would be “frittered away”.

“₹4 crore is not a small amount… It should not be frittered away. How do we protect their (families’) interests,” Justice Shah had asked in a June 11 hearing.

The victims’ lawyer had said the legal heirs of the fishermen had attained the age of majority. Kerala government, represented by senior advocate K.N. Balagopal and advocate G. Prakash, said the State had earlier conducted a preliminary verification of the legal heirs and found them responsible. The money the families had earlier received as ex gratia payments had been utilised well.

The international tribunal’s finding that the marines have immunity came 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 Supreme 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. In September 2015, the Supreme Court deferred the case till further orders.

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