(From left) Italian marines Salvatore Girone, and Massimiliano Latorre. (File photo)
(From left) Italian marines Salvatore Girone, and Massimiliano Latorre. (File photo)

Fishermen killings case: SC to close proceedings against Italian Marines

The bench, which will pass the formal order next Tuesday, also said that it was of the view that the compensation money should be transferred to the Kerala high court so that disbursement could be properly monitored and not frittered away
PUBLISHED ON JUN 11, 2021 11:50 AM IST

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to close all proceedings in India against the Italian marines who killed two Indian fishermen off the coast of Kerala in 2012, saying it will pass the formal order on Tuesday next week.

“We accept what you are proposing. We will pass our order on Tuesday,” said the bench of justices Indira Banerjee and MR Shah, after being informed that the compensation of 10 crore for the victims has been deposited in the registry of the top court.

The bench also said that it was of the view that the compensation money should be transferred to the Kerala high court so that disbursement could be properly monitored and not frittered away.

Solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Central government, accepted the court’s suggestion, so did the counsel for the Kerala government and the Republic of Italy.

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In April, the Centre had informed the Supreme Court that the families of two Indian fishermen killed by Italian marines have been “adequately” compensated as it sought expeditious closure of proceedings before the top court and a criminal trial pending before a special court in Delhi.

According to the Centre’s compliance affidavit dated January 5, which HT has reviewed, the Italian government offered to pay a total of 10 crore in damages. The families of the two deceased fishermen have agreed to a compensation of 4 crore each in addition to the 2 crore already paid by the Italian government. The injured owner of the boat had also consented to receiving damages of 2 crore.

As per the affidavit, the Kerala government also accepted this proposal from the Italian government and the consent letters from the legal heirs of the deceased and the boat owner were sent to the foreign secretary in the ministry of external affairs. Mehta informed the bench headed by then Chief Justice of India SA Bobde that the victims’ families were paid the compensation, as ruled by an international tribunal in May 2020.

However, on being informed that the compensation of 10 crore, as agreed upon by the Italian government, was yet to be disbursed to the families of the slain fishermen and the injured boat owner, the top court asked Italy first to deposit the money with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). The bench added that the MEA will subsequently deposit the compensation in the Supreme Court for releasing it to the victims as it deferred the hearing to a future date.

The case pending before the Supreme Court is an appeal filed by the two marines, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, against a May 2012 judgment of the Kerala high court, which held that Kerala had jurisdiction to try them. The high court ruled that the marines enjoyed no state immunity since their act of shooting at the fishermen was in defence of neither the vessel nor the state.

Also Read | Italy has assured to prosecute marines for killing Indian fishermen: Centre

The marines and the Italian government moved an appeal before the top court, which shifted the trial to a special court in Delhi in 2013 where it went on till the Supreme Court stayed it in 2015 after taking note of proceedings pending before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at the Hague, Netherlands. In the meantime, the marines were allowed to go back home on a personal undertaking by the Italian ambassador that they would come back as and when required.

The arbitral proceedings before the PCA were instituted under the United Nations Convention on Law of Seas (UNCLOS) on June 26, 2015 after Italy served a notice on India under the UNCLOS.

The UNCLOS is an international agreement that defines the rights and responsibilities of nations with regard to their conduct and use of world seas and oceans and management of natural marine resources.

In May 2020, the international tribunal ruled that the marines enjoyed immunity since they were exercising official functions in their capacity as Italian state officials when the incident occurred. It, therefore, ordered India to stop criminal proceedings against them.

At the same time, the tribunal also held that Italy had violated India’s right to navigation by firing at the fishing boat and said that the country would have to compensate India for loss of life and damage to property.

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