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SC reserves verdict on Italy's plea in fishermen killing

September 04, 2012 20:02 IST

The Supreme Court on Tuesday reserved its verdict on the Italian government's plea challenging the jurisdiction of Indian courts to try its two marines for allegedly gunning down two Indian fishermen off Kerala coast in February this year.

A bench of justices Altamas Kabir and J Chelameswar, also recorded Kerala senior counsel V Giri's submission that the state would not pursue the trial proceedings pending outcome of the apex court's judgement.

The counsel gave the assurance after senior counsel Harish Salve, appearing for the Italian government, sought a stay on the trial of two naval officers, Chief Sargent Massimiliano Lattore and Sargent Salvatore Girone in a Kerala court.

The case pertains to the killing of two Indian fishermen allegedly by two Italian naval officers on board 'Enrica Lexie'. Fearing a pirate attack, the two officers had allegedly fired at the fishermen' vessel off Kerala coast, killing two of them.

The Indian territorial waters extend up to 12 nautical miles.

The Italian government has contended that only the Military Court in Rome has the jurisdiction to prosecute the accused officers as only the Republic of Italy and its institutions (military and judicial) have the authority to deal with any inquiry and consequential legal proceedings against them.

It has assailed a Kerala high court order dismissing its plea on the ground that it virtually held the marines guilty by using observations like "brutal murder," "Italian government did not act in a bonafide manner."

Both the Centre led by Additional Solicitor General Gourab Banerjee and the Kerala government, however, argued that Indian courts had the territorial jurisdiction to deal with the case as the incident had occurred in its jurisdiction.

On May 29, the high court had ruled that the Italian marines were liable to be tried before a Kollam court in Kerala.

The apex court on May 2, in a conditional relief, had allowed the vessel to leave Indian shores along with crew members and remaining marines, subject to the condition that they make themselves available whenever required by authorities here during the investigation and prosecution of the two arrested marines who are in judicial custody.

It had directed the ship owner to execute a bond of Rs 3 crore before the registrar general of the Kerala high court as a surety for the presence of crew members and the vessel, whenever required.

The apex court had, however, made it clear that its order would not affect the right of the Kerala government to conduct the investigation and the prosecution of the two arrested marines.

After the incident, the two marines were arrested and charged with murder and lodged in the central prison in Thiruvananthapuram under judicial remand.

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