Centre not to drop anti-piracy charges against marines

Centre not to drop anti-piracy charges against marines

The Centre on Monday told the Supreme Court that it could not drop charges under the stringent anti-piracy law against two Italian marines for killing two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast in 2012, but promised not to press for death penalty.

Attorney General G E Vahanvati, appearing for the Centre, submitted before a three-judge bench presided over by Justice B S Chauhan that the anti-terrorism SUA (Suppression of Unlawful Acts against safety of Maritime Navigation and Fixed Platforms on Continental Shelf) Act could not be dropped in the case.

“Following the assurance, no death penalty could be imposed but we have to go through a process, the SUA cannot be dropped altogether,” he said.

The Centre was caught in a tricky situation since the case was handed over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which could proceed with the matter only if the alleged offences attracted provisions of laws mentioned in the schedule of the NIA Act and the SUA was one of them.

The case was handed over to the NIA after the apex court decided that the Kerala government did not have the jurisdiction to hold trial against the marines. The court had then directed the Union government to set up a special court and try them here.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohtagi, appearing for the Italian government and the marines, submitted that the latest sanction granted by the government to try the accused under the SUA, even though there would not be any death penalty, was “misconceived”.

He said the apex court had allowed proceedings against them only under the Maritime Zone Act, Indian Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code and the UNCLOS.

Rohtagi said the SUA must go as it was to be applied only against pirates, while the accused were naval officers.

He also sought permission from the court to allow the accused to go as the trial court here had still not started any proceeding. The counsel also pointed out that the case attracted adverse international ramifications.

The bench, after hearing brief arguments on petitions filed by the Italian government and the two marines, challenging the decision by the Home Ministry to invoke the SUA, said: “We would decide the issue on merit without being bothered about consequences.” The court posted the matter for hearing next Tuesday.

The joint petition, filed by Italian ambassador Daniele Mancini, along with marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, also sought direction to the Centre and the NIA to expedite proceedings in the case or discharge the marines.

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