The National Investigation Agency on Wednesday opposed in a Delhi court the pleas filed by two Italian marines, accused of killing two Indian fishermen off Kerala coast in 2012, seeking exemption from personal appearance on the ground that chargesheet has not been filed in the case.
The NIA told the court that the special court derives its jurisdiction from the order passed by the Supreme Court and the issue that chargesheet has not been filed cannot be a ground to seek exemption from personal appearance.
"This court derives jurisdiction from the Supreme Court's order...exemption on the ground of not filing of charge sheet is not a ground. We are opposing it," Additional Solicitor General Siddharth Luthra, who appeared for NIA, said.
Italian marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, who are accused in the case, were scheduled to appear on Wednesday before the court which was to hear the arguments on NIA's plea requesting it to take "appropriate steps" to secure their custody.
The counsel appearing for the marines told Additional Sessions Judge Dharmesh Sharma that there were certain "legal issues" which need to be addressed before the court decides on the aspect of custody of the accused.
The court, however, allowed the pleas of the marines and exempted them from personal appearance for the day.
"Without going into the merits of the applications (of the marines), accused are exempted from personal appearance for today," the judge said.
The marines, who were scheduled to file their responses on Thursday on the NIA's plea, informed the court that they would file the reply later on as it was under consideration.
The court fixed the matter for January 30 and directed the accused to file their replies within 15 days from today.
"To come up for reply, if any, and arguments on application moved by the NIA on January 30," the court said.
During the brief hearing today, the ASG told the court that as per the order of the apex court, the marines have to be in the custody of the court.
He, however, clarified, "I am not saying that they (marines) be physically taken into the custody."
The defence counsel countered the arguments of NIA, saying jurisdiction of this court comes into effect after filing of the charge sheet and till date, the probe agency has not filed its final police report.
The defence counsel also said senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi would advance the arguments on behalf of the marines on the legal issues which need to be seen before deciding on NIA's plea.
The court had earlier issued notices to the marines to appear before it in the case that has triggered a diplomatic row between India and Italy.
The notice was issued to them on a plea filed by NIA which had requested the court to take steps to have the custody of the two accused according to directions of the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court, on January 18, 2013, had said, "Till such time as the special court is set up, the petitioner Nos. 2 and 3 (both the marines) will be under the custody of this (apex) court."
NIA's plea assumes significance in the wake of the Supreme Court's direction and the special court will decide on the issue of custody of the marines.
The Supreme Court, on January 18 last year, had held that the marines should be tried by the Centre and had turned down the plea of the Italian government that Indian courts had no jurisdiction in the case.
The apex court had allowed NIA to probe the case against the marines and asked the special court to conduct the trial on a day-to-day basis after the charge sheet is filed.
The case pertains to the killing of two Indian fishermen allegedly by Latorre and Girone on board 'Enrica Lexie'.
Fearing a pirate attack, the two officers had allegedly fired at the fishermen's vessel off Kerala coast on February 15, 2012, killing two of them.
The marines were arrested on February 19, 2012.