SC closes proceedings in 2012 case against Italian marines
After nine years of twists and turns, the Supreme Court on Tuesday put an end to all legal proceedings in India against the Italian marines who killed two Indian fishermen off the coast of Kerala in 2012.
The bench of justices Indira Banerjee and MR Shah gave quietus to civil and criminal proceedings pending against the two marines after noting that compensation of ₹10 crore for the families of the victims “can be said to be a reasonable amount of compensation” and “in the interest of heirs of the deceased”.
“We are of the view that this is a fit case to close all the proceedings in India including criminal proceedings in exercise of powers under Article 142 of the Constitution of India,” the bench recorded in its 11-page order while ending proceedings against the two marines, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone.
The top court said that the compensation money shall be transferred to the Kerala high court, which will monitor its disbursement to the victim families. 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 also consented to receiving damages of ₹2 crore.
Citing the May 2020 order of the international arbitral tribunal that both India and Italy accepted, the court added that the Republic of Italy shall resume its criminal investigation into the fishermen’s shooting incident of 2012. “It is further directed that the Union of India, Republic of Italy and the State of Kerala shall cooperate with each other in pursuit of that investigation,” said the bench.
After Tuesday’s order, civil proceedings pending before the Supreme Court and the Kerala high court as well as a criminal murder case pending before a special court in Delhi shall come to an end.
The peaceful burial has followed an intense legal and diplomatic row that began on February 15, 2012 when the marines aboard Italian Vessel MV Enrica Lexie shot dead Valantine, 44, and Ajeesh Pink, 20, who were fishing off the coast of Kerala. The Kollam police registered a murder case against the marines and arrested the duo on February 19.
While the marines and the Italy challenged the jurisdiction of the Kerala police by filing a writ petition before the high court in February, the families of the slain fishermen and the injured boat owner filed admiralty suit before the high court demanding compensation. A separate petition was also filed by Enrica Lexie before the high court seeking permission to continue the voyage with other crew members.
In April 2012, the Italian government paid a compensation of ₹1 crore each for the deceased fishermen and ₹17 lakh for the boat owner in an out-of-court settlement. But the petition by Lexie was dismissed by a division bench of the high court compelling the shipping company to move the Supreme Court. On May 2, the Supreme Court allowed the vessel to sail away with all 24 crew members, subject to certain terms and conditions.
To be sure, the criminal case continued against the marines and, on May 18, 2012, the Kollam police filed a charge sheet against the two, charging them with murder and attempt to murder. The writ petition filed by the marines along with their government failed before the high court which on May 29, 2012, affirmed the jurisdiction by the Kerala and the concerned circle inspector of police at Kollam.
The marines and the Italian government then rushed to the Supreme Court, seeking protection under the United Nationals Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The Italian government asserted that India and Italy, having signed and ratified the 1982 treaty, must settle the dispute concerning the incident in question, in terms of the binding dispute resolution mechanism provided under the UNCLOS.
The Italian government also claimed sovereign immunity for its marines but, by a judgment in January 2013, the Supreme Court dismissed this contention and upheld India’s criminal jurisdiction over the Marines. At the same time, the court clarified that Kerala had no jurisdiction to investigate into the incident since the incident had taken place over the Contiguous Zone that was in exclusive jurisdiction of the Union government.
While the proceedings were then shifted to a special court in Delhi and the probe was handed over to the National Investigation Agency, the top court gave liberty to the Italian government to raise issues of UNCLOS at appropriate forum.
Then came a phase of diplomatic tension when the marines, who were allowed by the top court in February 2013 to go to Italy for a brief period to vote in the general elections, did not come back, and Italy went back on its undertaking. As the court fumed over breach of undertaking by Italian ambassador Daniele Mincini, the Indian government restrained Mincini from leaving the country. Following diplomatic pressures, Italy returned the marines to India.
In September 2014, Latorre sought permission to go back to Italy for medical treatment, and the court allowed it on the humanitarian ground. The initial period of four months was later extended from time to time.
In July 2015, Italy took the case to International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, an independent judicial body under the UNCLOS, which asked both India and Italy to suspend all court proceedings and referred the matter to the Permanent Court of Arbitration, an intergovernmental organisation based in The Hague in Netherlands.
On a joint request by both the governments, the Supreme Court suspended all proceedings against the marines by an order in August 2015.
In May 2016, the apex court allowed the second marine, Girone, to leave for Italy. In September that year, the Centre told the Supreme Court it had no objection if the marines were allowed to remain in Italy until the arbitration proceedings before the tribunal were over, following which the court permitted their stay at home.
In May 2020, the 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 held that Italy 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. When the plea was taken up by the court in August 2020, it clarified that the proceedings could be closed only after the families of the victims were heard and given “adequate” compensation.
Again, in April this year, the Supreme Court reiterated that the compensation money must be deposited in the registry of the court and the victims should agree to it before the proceedings could be ended. Last week, the court was informed that compensation of ₹10 crore for the families of the victims has been deposited. It had then reserved the order that was delivered on Tuesday, ending all proceedings in India against the marines.