Millennium Post

SC grants Italian government time to specify stand

The Supreme Court today asked the Italian government to tell it by tomorrow if it would ensure the presence of four marines of its merchant navy ship Enrica Lexie in India during criminal proceedings against their two colleagues, accused of killing two fishermen off Kerala cost.

A bench of justices R M Lodha and H L Gokhale put the matter for tomorrow after the Italian government's counsel and senior advocate Harish Salve said he needed time for a specific instruction from his client on the issue.

Salve said he wants to be very clear before making any submission about the Italian authorities' stand on if they are willing to accept the jurisdiction of the Indian courts as there is also a question of sovereign immunity involved in it.

Appearing for Kerala, former Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium had yesterday sought imposition of stringent conditions for release of the ship and compel the presence of the crew and marine officers during the proceeding against their two colleagues.

The court reiterated its concerns that the criminal proceedings here should not be defeated.

The apex court yesterday had termed Italy's compromise with the kin of two Indian fishermen shot dead by its marines, as 'illegal' and 'astonishing' and had said that they were 'playing' with the Indian process of law and felt Kerala should have filed an objection.

The bench said the mouths of the families of the two victims - Jalastine and Binki - have been 'locked' by the Italian government by paying each an amount of Rs 1 crore, defeating the Indian legal system.

The apex court had also sought the Italian government's stand on the question of releasing the impounded ship with certain conditions after the owner of the vessel claimed that their detention had cost the company Rs 200 crore.

Subramanium had, however, told the court that Kerala was not a party to the compromise and had reserved the right to challenge it before higher forum.

Kerala yesterday had sought imposition of stringent conditions for release of the ship and wanted the court to ensure the presence of the crew and marine officers during trial of their two colleagues for allegedly killing the fishermen in February this year.

Counsel for Kerala Government had said it would not oppose release of the ship provided stringent conditions, including bank guarantee, adequate bond and security were imposed on the marines to secure their presence during trial as charge sheet would be filed in another 15 days.

Attorney General G E Vahanvati had yesterday sought to distance himself from the controversial stand taken by Additional Solicitor General Harin Raval that the Kerala government had no jurisdiction to deal with the issue.

'I don't stand by the statement that the Kerala government had no jurisdiction. Even the ASG had clarified it on the other day. It was his personal view. That statement was also not an issue before this court,' he had told the bench.

Earlier on 23 April, another bench of the apex court had sought replies of the the Centre and the Kerala government on Italian government's plea to quash the criminal cases against its two merchant navy personnel.

In its petition filed under Article 32, the Italian government had asserted that the Kerala Government has no locus standi to register any criminal case as the alleged offence ought to be treated under international law and covenants as India is a signatory to the UN charter.
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