SC seeks Centre, Kerala's replies on Italian government's plea

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The Supreme Court on Monday sought response from the Centre and the Kerala government on the Italian government's plea to quash criminal cases filed against two of its naval personnel on board Italian vessel Enrica Lexie for the killing of two Indian fishermen.

A three-judge bench of justices Altamas Kabir, S.S. Nijjar and Ranjan Gogoi sought replies within two weeks and posted the matter for further hearing on May 8.

In its petition filed under Article 32, the Italian Government asserted that the Kerala Government has no locus standi to register any criminal case as the alleged offence ought to be treated under international law and covenants as India is a signatory to the UN charter.

Appearing for the Italian government, senior counsel Harish Salve told the bench that the matter needs to be dealt between the the two countries and the Kerala government had no jurisdiction in interfering with the matter as the incident had occurred in 'contigual waters' 12 nautical miles beyond the Indian jurisdiction. He said the action of the Italian personnel was part of their official duty.

"It is an act of official duty and the Republic of Italy takes full responsibility of it," Salve said and maintained that they cannot be subjected to domestic laws.

The counsel further argued that if there was any killing of Indian personnel in Siachin, the Kerala Government cannot step in and register a case.

Initially the court wondered whether it can entertain the writ petition filed by the Italian government for enforcement of its fundamental rights. Article 32 is invoked by a person for enforcement of his/ her fundamental rights.

Salve, however, argued that the Italian Government was also deemed to be a 'person' within the meaning of Article 32 for invoking the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.

Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaising questioned the maintainability of the petition of the Italian government on the ground that it was not a citizen within the meaning of Article 32 for invoking the court's jurisdiction.

Counsel for the Kerala Government also opposed the Italian Government's petition on the ground that the Kerala High Court had already reserved its judgement on the issue. However, the bench proceeded to issue notices on the issue for their replies.

The bench had earlier also sought response of the Centre, Kerala government and two relatives of the deceased fishermen on a petition challenging the seizure of Italian vessel Enrica Lexie by the authorities after two marines onboard allegedly gunned down two Indian fishermen on February 15.

The special leave petition was filed by Enrica's owners, Dolphin Tankers questioning the Kerala High Court's order staying the release of the vessel.

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