SC defers ruling on Italian marines till Thursday

New Delhi, April 22 (IANS) The Supreme Court will pronounce Thursday its order on the Italian government’s plea against the invoking of a stringent act and the NIA investigation into the killing of two Indian fishermen off Kerala coast by its two marines February 2012.

A bench of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir, Justice Anil R. Dave and Justice Vikramajit Sen, which was to pronounce its order Monday, said that it would do so Thursday.

The Italian government has contended that if convicted, its two marines would face death sentence, a mandatory punishment if a person is convicted under the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against Safety of Maritime Navigation and Fixed Platforms on Continental Shelf Act (SUA), 2002.

On March 22, after the return of the marines from Italy, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid told parliament that India had offered Italy an assurance that its marines, Massimiliano Lattore and Salvatore Girone, would not get the death penalty if they returned by the deadline set by the Supreme Court.

Khurshid said the case did not fall in the category of “rarest of rare cases” that attract the death penalty in India, so there was no fear of that.

However, the Italian government and the marines moved the apex court after they were booked under the act and investigation was entrusted to the National Investigation Agency (NIA).

In the course of the last hearing of the case April 16, senior counsel Mukul Rohtagi had assailed the NIA for invoking SUA, under which, he had said “death is answered by death”.” SUA has a mandatory death penalty, he noted.

Section 3(g)(1) of SUA says that the if the offender causes death to any person (he) shall be punished with death. The section deals with the offences against ship, fixed platform, cargo of a ship, maritime navigational facilities, etc. and provides for punishments.

On Feb 15, 2012, the two marines, posted on security duty aboard an Italian-registered oil tanker, Enrica Lexie, mistaking a boat of fishermen for pirates, shot and killed two Indian fishermen, Ajay Binki and Gelastine.

The incident occurred about 20.5 nautical miles off the coast of Kerala.

The case was initially tried in Kerala. The Italians have been contesting the jurisdiction of Indian courts in the matter, saying the incident occurred in international waters.

The trial was shifted to the apex court, which April 16 reserved its verdict on the plea of the Italian government and its two marines.

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