The Supreme Court today sought response from the Centre on the petition filed by two Italian marines challenging the jurisdiction of NIA to prosecute and probe the case of killing of two Indian fishermen off Kerala coast in 2012.
The fresh move by the marines comes more than a month after the Indian Government decided to withdraw their prosecution under the stringent anti-piracy SUA law that attracts death penalty as maximum punishment.
A bench comprising justices B S Chauhan and J Chelameswar issued notice to the Union Government and sought its response on the contention of the Italian marines that the probe into the alleged killing of fishermen by the NIA was illegal.
"Now by order dated February 6, 2014, the Ministry of Home Affairs has superseded its sanction order of January 17, 2014 and thus deleted section 3(1)(g)(i) of the SUA Act. Hence NIA has ceased to have jurisdiction in view of the mandate of section 3 (1) of the NIA Act," senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the marines submitted.
The bench also allowed the request of the counsel to defer the scheduled March 31 hearing of the case before the special court set up exclusively to deal with the case of the marines.
Rohatgi said since the charge sheet has not been filed in the case, the proceedings are periodically adjourned and unnecessarly those associated with the case have to mark their presence in court.
The case pertains to the killing of two Indian fishermen allegedly by Italian marines Latorre and Girone on board ship 'Enrica Lexie' off Kerala coast on February 15, 2012.
In the fresh plea, the marines contended that the 1983 notification of the Ministry of Home Affairs extending the whole of the Indian Penal Code to the Exclusive Economic Zone is ultra vires of the Marine Zones Act (MZA), 1976.
The Centre on February 24 had told the apex court that the marines would not be prosecuted under the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against Safety of Maritime Navigation And Fixed Platforms on Continental Shelf Act (SUA).
It had said that the contentious issue of SUA was resolved with Italy after the Law Minister had opined that provisions of the anti-piracy law are "not attracted" in this case.
The Italian government, however, opened a new front against the Centre by orally questioning the NIA's jurisdiction to investigate the case, saying that the agency cannot probe offences under the Indian Penal Code and today a formal plea was made.
It had earlier challenged invoking of SUA, saying it is against the order of the apex court which allowed proceedings only under the Maritime Zone Act, IPC, CrPC and UNCLOS.
The joint petition, filed by Italian Ambassador Daniele Mancini along with Italian marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, also sought direction to the Centre to expedite the proceedings in the case or discharge the marines.
The two officers contended that they had apprehended a piracy attack. The marines were arrested on February 19, 2012.
On January 18, last year, the Supreme Court had directed the central agency to probe the case against the marines and directed the Centre to set up a special court to conduct the trial on a day-to-day basis after the charge sheet is filed.