The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to close all proceedings in India against the Italian marines who killed two Indian fishermen off the coast of Kerala in 2012 after being informed that compensation of ₹10 crore for the families of the victims has been deposited in the registry of the top court.
“We accept what you are proposing. We will pass our order on Tuesday,” said the bench of justices Indira Banerjee and MR Shah. It added that it was of the view that the compensation money should be transferred to the Kerala high court so that disbursement could be properly monitored.
Solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, accepted the court’s suggestion, so did the counsel for the Kerala government and the Republic of Italy.
In April, the Centre informed the Supreme Court that the families of two Indian fishermen killed by Italian marines have been “adequately” compensated as it sought expeditious closure of proceedings before the SC and a criminal trial pending before a special court in Delhi.
According to the Centre’s compliance affidavit dated January 5, which HT has reviewed, the Italian government offered to pay a total of ₹10 crore in damages. The families of the two deceased fishermen have agreed to a compensation of ₹4 crore each in addition to the ₹2 crore already paid by the Italian government. The injured owner of the boat also consented to receiving damages of ₹2 crore.
Mehta informed the bench headed by then Chief Justice of India SA Bobde that the victims’ families were paid the compensation, as ruled by an international tribunal in May 2020.
However, on being informed that the compensation of ₹10 crore was yet to be disbursed to the families of the victims, the top court asked Italy to first deposit the money with the ministry of external affairs, which will subsequently deposit it in the top court for releasing it to the victims.
The case pending before the Supreme Court is an appeal filed by the two marines, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, against a May 2012 judgment of the Kerala high court, which held that Kerala had jurisdiction to try them. The high court ruled that the marines enjoyed no state immunity since their act of shooting at the fishermen was in defence of neither the vessel nor the state.
The marines and the Italian government approached the top court, which shifted the trial to a special court in Delhi in 2013 where it went on till the Supreme Court stayed it in 2015 after taking note of proceedings pending before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague, Netherlands. Meanwhile, the marines were allowed to go back home on an undertaking by the Italian ambassador that they would come back when required.
The arbitral proceedings before PCA were instituted under the United Nations Convention on Law of Seas on June 26, 2015, after Italy served a notice on India under the international agreement that defines the rights and responsibilities of nations with regard to their conduct and use of world seas and oceans and management of natural marine resources.
In May 2020, the tribunal ruled that the marines enjoyed immunity since they were exercising official functions in their capacity as Italian state officials when the incident occurred. It, therefore, ordered India to stop criminal proceedings against them. At the same time, the tribunal held that Italy violated India’s right to navigation by firing at the fishing boat and said that the country would have to compensate India for loss of life and damage to property.