The government’s plea sought to stop the criminal trial and other proceedings against them following a United Nations tribunal decision that the duo would be tried in Italy.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the closure of court proceedings in India against the two Italian marines 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 Salvatore Girone and Massimiliano Latorre, detailed on vessel Enrica Lexie, following a decision of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in May last year that the duo would be tried in Italy.
The court recorded that Italy had transferred ₹10 crore to India as compensation to the fishermen’s families. The families have given their consent. The money has already been transferred to the Supreme Court Registry by the Ministry of External Affairs.
The amount of ₹10 crore was over and above the ₹21.7 million paid by Italy earlier to the families of the victims.
“We are satisfied that the compensation of ₹10 crore, over and above the ex-gratia amount already paid to the heirs of the deceased fishermen, can be said to be a reasonable amount of compensation…”, the court recorded in a 11-page order.
Justice Shah, who read out the order, concluded that this was a “fit case to close all proceedings in India”.
Transfer of money to HC
The Bench ordered the amount to be transferred from the Supreme Court Registry to the Kerala High Court. The apex court asked the Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court to nominate a judge to hear the fishermen’s families and disburse/invest ₹ 4 crore each to their rightful legal heirs. It said care should be taken that the money reached the heirs and was not “diverted” into wrong hands.
“While disbursing the amount of compensation to the heirs, i.e, ₹4 crores each, their [heirs] interest is required to be protected so that the amount of compensation paid to them is not frittered away,” the court noted.
It suggested investing the money in the name of the dependents/heirs of each deceased in a fixed deposit in a nationalised bank for some time.
₹2 cr. for boat owner
The balance ₹ 2 crore, the court ordered, would be paid to the owner of the fishing boat that came under attack from the marines. It 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 court told the Union government 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 later on expressed concern 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 asked in the June 11 hearing.
‘Legal heirs are responsible’
The victims’ lawyer had said the legal heirs of the fishermen had attained the age of majority. The Kerala government, represented by senior advocate K.N. Balagopal and advocate G. Prakash, said the State had conducted a preliminary verification of the legal heirs and found them responsible. The money the families had 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 court had ordered the Centre to set up a special court to try the case. Prior to the top court verdict, the Kerala High Court had also found that the marines enjoyed no immunity.
However, in 2014, the marines successfully gained a stay order on the probe by the National Investigation Agency. A year later, the Supreme Court froze its own proceedings when the case reached the ITLOS. In September 2015, the court deferred the case till further orders.