New Delhi: The National Investigation Team (NIA) will continue with its investigation against the Italian marines, who allegedly killed two fishermen off the Kerala coast in 2012, ruled the Supreme Court on Friday. Italy had questioned the jurisdiction of the NIA to probe the case against its marines saying the charges which have been slapped on the marines are not covered by the NIA Act.
The apex court also directed that "day-to-day proceedings (in the Italian marines case) be conducted by a special court". "The special court will handle no other case except the case against the marines and will complete the trial as soon as possible," added the bench, which is headed by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir. The special court was set up by the Centre to hear the Italian marines' case. The bench, which also comprises Justices AR Dave and Vikramajit Sen, said the two marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone will remain in the custody of the apex court till the completion of the trial.
The Italian government had raised objection over the case being handed by the NIA, saying the agency has no jurisdiction and pleaded that the case be probed by CBI. The Italian government had approached the apex court, saying that the charges which have been slapped on the marines are not covered by the NIA Act.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Italian government, had submitted that NIA can probe the case only if charges under Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against Safety of Maritime Navigation and Fixed Platforms on Continental Shelf Act, 2002, are also slapped against the marines and the same cannot be done in view of apex court verdict to prosecute them only under IPC, CrPC, Maritime Zones Act and United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The two marines were on board Italian vessel 'Enrica Lexie' when they had allegedly shot dead two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast on February 15, 2012.
Attorney General GE Vahanvati had on April 16 objected to the Italian government's contention and said that NIA can probe the case and had also assured the court that the investigation will be completed in 60 days. "NIA is not restricted under the NIA Act. CBI is extremely over-burdened and the government chose NIA as an institution to probe the case," Vahanvati had said.
The Italian government and its marines had contended that the probe and prosecuting power cannot be entrusted to NIA as it would lead to a deviation from the spirit of the January 18 judgement and compel the agency to include the provisions of Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against Safety of Maritime Navigation and Fixed Platforms on Continental Shelf Act (SUA), 2002, which contains the provision of death sentence.
"In this case, NIA cannot exist without SUA and SUA cannot exist without NIA," Rohatgi had said and had also drawn the attention of the apex court to the original FIR filed by Kollam Police in Kerala in which SUA was not invoked. He had said SUA was later included but dropped from the charge sheet filed before the magistrate in Kollam. Rohatgi had said NIA took the case in accordance with the April one notification and proceeded on the basis of the Kollam FIR by adding SUA.
However, the Attorney General had said the notification of April 1 had been superseded by the April 15 notification and NIA has been chosen as a central institution like CBI to probe and prosecute the case of the marines. "NIA is a central institution. NIA will proceed in the spirit of the January 18 order. NIA will complete investigation in 60 days...NIA cannot be brought (in this case) is a complete misconception," Vahanvati had said.
He had also informed the bench about the steps taken for setting up the special court, exclusively to deal with the case in hand. The bench had said the intention of its January 18 order was that the matter should be dealt with as expeditiously as possible in the special court which will not have any other case.
(With additional information from PTI)