SC flays judicial officer's conduct in Italian ship row

Published: 18th July 2012 08:14 PM  |   Last Updated: 17th September 2012 07:00 PM   |  A+A-


The Supreme Court today disapproved of Kerala High Court Registrar General's modifying its direction to execute a Rs 3 crore bond as surety for securing the presence of 6 crew members of Italian vessel 'Enrica Lexie' whose marines allegedly killed 2 Indian fishermen.

A bench of justices R M Lodha and H L Gokhale, even while expressing displeasure, however, refrained from interfering with the RG's order as the vessel owner had already complied with the direction of furnishing Rs 3 crore fixed deposit instead of a bond of Rs 3 crore as directed by the apex court.

In February this year, the fishermen Valentine Jalstine and Ajesh Binki were killed allegedly by the Italian marines in firing at their fishing boat off off Kollam coast, triggering a diplomatic row.

Senior counsel K K Venugopal appearing for the vessel owners, contended the RG had exceeded his jurisdiction by modifying the apex court's direction of May 2.

He pointed out that by the said direction, the apex court had asked the owner of the ship to furnish a bond of Rs 3 crore for securing the presence of the 6 crew members as and when their presence was required by Indian courts.

But the RG, he said, interpreted the order in his own way and asked them to furnish a demand draft or fixed deposit to the tune of Rs 3 crore, which they were compelled to do.

However, Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaising, on behalf of the Centre, told the bench that as the apex court's order stated that the bond be executed to the satisfaction of the RG, the officer in a "bona fide" manner interpreted the order so as to mean that he can secure the crew's presence by insisting on an FD or demand draft.

"We are ourselves are not satisfied with the Registrar General's order. It was wrong. Registrar General is a senior judicial officer. He should have understood the judicial order. We disapprove of it, "Justice Lodha, heading the bench, said.

The apex court, however, refrained from staying the RG's order, saying "since you have already complied with the order of the Registrar General, we do not want to disturb it."

On May 2, in a conditional relief, the apex court 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 three 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 Kerala government to conduct the investigation and the prosecution of the two arrested marines.

Marines Latore Massimiliano and Salvatore Gironi were arrested and charged with murder and lodged in the central prison in Thiruvananthapuram under judicial remand.

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