SC Stays Trial, Consults Centre on Marines' Petition Disputing NIA Probe
The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the trial against the two Italian marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast, and also sought the Centre’s response on their petition challenging the jurisdiction of the NIA to prosecute them.
The present move by the mariners comes more than a month after the Indian Government decided to withdraw their prosecution under the stringent SUA (Suppression of Unlawful Acts) law that attracts death penalty as maximum punishment.
A Bench comprising Justice B S Chauhan and Justice 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“Now by order dated February 6, 2014, the Ministry of Home Affairs has superseded its sanction order of January 17, 2014 and thus deleted section 3(1)(g)(i) of the SUA Act.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 the 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 marines 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 unnecessarily 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 the 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 SUA Act. 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.