The Supreme Court Friday reserved its order for June 15 on the Union government’s plea to close criminal proceedings in India against two Italian marines accused of killing two fishermen off the Kerala coast in February 2012.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta informed the bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and M R Shah that Rs 10 crore compensation, which Italy had agreed to pay the families of the victims, had been deposited in the court Registry in line with its earlier directive.

The bench said it can quash the proceedings against marines Salvatore Girone and Massimiliano Latorre and ask the Kerala High Court to disburse the amount.

Mehta told the bench that the amount had been deposited and there was no dispute on the quantum, and that the amount had to be apportioned.

He said the Kerala government had expressed the view that some others on the boat at the time of the incident should also be compensated, and it was for the state government to see how to distribute the amount.

He referred to the letter of consent from the heirs of the dead fishermen which the Kerala government had submitted to the court. According to that letter, the legal heirs were to get Rs 4 crore each while Rs 2 crore would go to the owner of the boat Enrica Lexie.

The Solicitor General took the court through the May 2020 order of the Arbitral Tribunal — constituted under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) — that while India is entitled to compensation for the loss of lives, the Italian marines cannot be tried in India in view of the immunity they enjoyed. The marines, he said, would instead be prosecuted in Italy.

In July 2020, the government had told the court that it had decided to accept the Tribunal’s ruling and sought disposal of the proceedings pending before it.

Appearing for the Republic of Italy, Senior Advocate Sohail Dutta urged the bench to pass an order to quash the criminal proceedings pending against the marines.

The bench said that Rs 4 crore was not a small amount and it needed to protect the interests of those entitled to it.

It expressed apprehension that there may be further disputes over the money among the legal heirs. At this, Mehta said it should be left to the state government.

The counsel for the widow of one of the victims said the amount received earlier had been kept in a fixed deposit. He said the children are now major and the amount could be given in the form of a demand draft.

Justice Shah suggested that the court can quash the proceedings and ask the Kerala High Court to look into the distribution and investment of the amount.

The bench said it had noted that Italy had deposited the money and may continue proceedings against the marines.

 

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