Italy gave families of two fishermen killed by marines ₹10 crore in damages
The central government on Wednesday informed the Supreme Court that the families of two Indian fishermen killed by Italian marines off the coast of Kerala in 2012 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. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the matter on April 9.
According to the Centre’s compliance affidavit dated January 5, which HT has seen and 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. On Wednesday, solicitor general Tushar Mehta informed the bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde that the victims’ families have been paid the compensation, as ruled by an international tribunal in May 2020.
“The victims’ families are also here, as asked by the bench on the last date of hearing. This is a short matter and only requires to be disposed of on the next date,” the law officer told the bench, which also included justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian.
Mehta requested the bench to take up the matter for hearing on Friday saying “there is some urgency since it is between the Indian and Italian government” and the bench agreed.
CJI Bobde retires on April 23. The government has sought an urgent hearing so that the matter could be disposed of by the same bench before the CJI demits office.
During the last hearing in August 2020, this bench had said that it will close the proceedings only after the families of the victims are heard and given “adequate” compensation, after it noted that the victims’ families were not parties to the case before the Supreme Court.
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.
The marines and the Italian government moved an appeal before the top court, which shifted the trial to a special court 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.
On July 3, 2020 the Centre moved the top court, saying it had accepted the PCA’s ruling and wanted the proceedings to be closed.
“The Republic of India has taken a decision to accept and abide by the award passed by the (arbitral) tribunal which would have the bearing on the continuance of present proceedings before the Supreme Court. The applicant (central government) is, therefore, placing the award on record with a prayer that the proceedings with regard to the incident dated February 15, 2012 be disposed of in conformity with the Award passed by the tribunal”, its application before the Supreme Court said.