No anti-piracy law against marines, Centre tells SC

No anti-piracy law against marines, Centre tells SC

The Centre on Monday told the Supreme Court that it has decided to drop the stringent anti-piracy law, which calls for a mandatory death penalty in cases of conviction, against the two Italian marines who are accused of killing two fishermen off the Kerala coast in 2012.

Attorney General G E Vahanvati informed a bench comprising Justices B S Chauhan and J Chelameswar that the Law Ministry would not press the SUA (Suppression of Unlawful Acts against safety of Maritime Navigation and Fixed Platforms on Continental Shelf) against the marines.

The matter was referred to the Law Ministry after the Home Ministry issued a notification invoking the SUA against the accused, while the External Affairs Ministry was not in its favour.

Awaiting the Law Ministry’s opinion, the Union government had earlier stated that it cannot drop charges under the SUA, but will not press for death penalty. The turnaround in the Centre’s stand averted a possible diplomatic row with Italy on the issue.

“We have received the opinion from the Law Ministry that the SUA will not be imposed,” Vahanvati submitted before the bench through the latest affidavit from the Centre.

“In the circumstances, the charge sheet (to be filed) would reflect the opinion,” he said, adding, “We will modify the sanction (issued by the Home Ministry).”

Senior advocate Mukul Rohtagi, appearing for the Italian government and two marines, raised the issue of the case being investigated by the National Investigation Agency (NIA). He claimed that since charges under the SUA have been dropped, there was no need to entrust the probe to the NIA, which was not empowered to take up cases filed under the Indian Penal Code.

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

The bench, however, allowed the Italian government, as well as the marines, to file an interlocutory application within a week, challenging the apex court’s April 26 order that handed over the investigation to the NIA.

The court gave the Centre one week’s time to respond to the application.

During the hearing, the court was initially reluctant to take up the fresh plea challenging the NIA’s jurisdiction, saying that petitioners Ambassador of Italy Daniele Mancini, along with marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, had not raised any such issue in their joint petition.

Two Indian fishermen were killed by Latorre and Girone on board the ship “Enrica Lexie”, off Kerala’s coast on February 15, 2012.

The apex court had in a judgment on January 18 ordered the Centre to set up a special court in Delhi and taken away Kerala’s jurisdiction in investigating the case.

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