Italian Marines to be tried in Special Court in Delhi for Enrica Lexie Incident

The two Italian Marines to be put on trial before a special court in Delhi

India’s Supreme Court has rejected a bid by the Italian government to transfer to Italy the case of two of its marines charged with the murder of two Indian fishermen. The judges said that the marines would be tried in a special court in the capital, Delhi. As previously discussed here and here, in the Enrica Lexie incident Indian fishermen were shot and killed by an Italian Vessel Protection Detachment on board to protect against pirates operating in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden. Jurisdiction over the incident was contested by Italy and India leading to litigation before the Supreme Court of India which has now pronounced its view. A friend of the blog has provided us the Judgement of the Supreme Court.  Here are the crucial paragraphs:

97. In my view, since India is a signatory, she is obligated to respect the provisions of UNCLOS 1982, and to apply the same if there is no conflict with the domestic law. In this context, both the countries may have to subject themselves to the provisions of Article 94 of the Convention which deals with the duties of the Flag State and, in particular, sub-Article (7) which provides that each State shall cause an inquiry to be held into every marine casualty or incident of navigation on the high seas involving a ship flying its flag and causing loss of life or serious injury to nationals of another State. It is also stipulated that the Flag State and the other State shall cooperate in the conduct of any inquiry held by that other State into any such marine casualty or incident of navigation.

98. The principles enunciated in the Lotus case (supra) have, to some extent, been watered down by Article 97 of UNCLOS 1982. Moreover, as observed in Starke’s International Law, referred to by Mr. Salve, the territorial criminal jurisdiction is founded on various principles which provide that, as a matter of convenience, crimes should be dealt with by the States whose social order is most closely affected. However, it has also been observed that some public ships and armed forces of foreign States may enjoy a degree of immunity from the territorial jurisdiction of a nation.

99. This brings me to the question of applicability of the provisions of the Indian Penal Code to the case in hand, in view of Sections 2 and 4 thereof. Of course, the applicability of Section 4 is no longer in question in this case on account of the concession made on behalf of the State of Kerala in the writ proceedings before the Kerala High Court. However, Section 2 of the Indian Penal Code as extracted hereinbefore provides otherwise. Undoubtedly, the incident took place within the Contiguous Zone over which, both under the provisions of the Maritime Zones Act, 1976, and UNCLOS 1982, India is entitled to exercise rights of sovereignty. However, as decided by this Court in the Aban Loyd Chiles Offshore Ltd. Case (supra), referred to by Mr. Salve, Sub-section (4) of Section 7 only provides for the Union of India to have sovereign rights limited to exploration, exploitation, conservation and management of the natural resources, both living and non-living, as well as for producing energy from tides, winds and currents, which cannot be equated with rights of sovereignty over the said areas, in the Exclusive Economic Zone. It also provides for the Union of India to exercise other ancillary rights which only clothes the Union of India with sovereign rights and not rights of sovereignty in the Exclusive Economic Zone. The said position is reinforced under Sections 6 and 7 of the Maritime Zones Act, 1976, which also provides that India’s sovereignty extends over its Territorial Waters while, the position is different in respect of the Exclusive Economic Zone. I am unable to accept Mr. Banerji’s submissions to the contrary to the effect that Article 59 of the Convention permits States to assert rights or jurisdiction beyond those specifically provided in the Convention.

100. What, therefore, transpires from the aforesaid discussion is that while India is entitled both under its Domestic Law and the Public International Law to exercise rights of sovereignty up to 24 nautical miles from the baseline on the basis of which the width of Territorial Waters is measured, it can exercise only sovereign rights within the Exclusive Economic Zone for certain purposes. The incident of firing from the Italian vessel on the Indian shipping vessel having occurred within the Contiguous Zone, the Union of India is entitled to prosecute the two Italian marines under the criminal justice system prevalent in the country. However, the same is subject to the provisions of Article 100 of UNCLOS 1982. I agree with Mr. Salve that the “Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Family Relations and Cooperation between States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations” has to be conducted only at the level of the Federal or Central Government and cannot be the subject matter of a proceeding initiated by a Provincial/State Government.

101. While, therefore, holding that the State of Kerala has no jurisdiction to investigate into the incident, I am also of the view that till such time as it is proved that the provisions of Article 100 of the UNCLOS 1982 apply to the facts of this case, it is the Union of India which has jurisdiction to proceed with the investigation and trial of the Petitioner Nos.2 and 3 in the Writ Petition. The Union of India is, therefore, directed, in consultation with the Chief Justice of India, to set up a Special Court to try this case and to dispose of the same in accordance with the provisions of the Maritime Zones Act, 1976, the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure and most importantly, the provisions of UNCLOS 1982, where there is no conflict between the domestic law and UNCLOS 1982. The pending proceedings before the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Kollam, shall stand transferred to the Special Court to be constituted in terms of this judgment and it is expected that the same shall be disposed of expeditiously. This will not prevent the Petitioners herein in the two matters from invoking the provisions of Article 100 of UNCLOS 1982, upon adducing evidence in support thereof, whereupon the question of jurisdiction of the Union of India to investigate into the incident and for the Courts in India to try the accused may be reconsidered. If it is found that both the Republic of Italy and the Republic of India have concurrent jurisdiction over the matter, then these directions will continue to hold good.

The Judgement is something of a compromise as it takes jurisdiction away from the state of Kerala where local press were decidedly one-sided in their evaluations of the parties at fault. The trial will take place in Delhi where the marines might have a better chance of receiving a fair trial. However, the judgement rejects Italy’s claim to exclusive criminal jurisdiction in this case. The Supreme Court’s reading of the Lotus case in view of UNCLOS is crucial and merits further analysis. We hope to provide further analysis soon.

2 Responses to Italian Marines to be tried in Special Court in Delhi for Enrica Lexie Incident

  1. David Rider says:

    It will be interesting to see how much additional traction the case gives India’s efforts to have the HRA re-drawn away from their coast. There’s concern that this will happen again, given the large amount of small boat fishing off their Western coast and the number of merchant ships transiting the region.

  2. Sir,
    Much water has flown down Ganges. I could not get a more recent post by you on this topic. Hence I am using this to communicate to you.
    The Italian Marines returned on 22nd of March on the last day they were supposed to comeback to India and a big diplomatic row was avoided. On April 2nd Supreme Court ordered that the restriction on the movement of the Italian ambassador is removed and he is free to go anywhere. In a matter of two days and that too on a week end Indian government designated a special court to try the case of this Italian Marines, which they could not do for the last two months. Then a week or back it asked the National Investigation Agency which had been constituted to pursue the cases related to terrorism to investigate this case of the Italian Marines. In what way this case is connected to terrorism , I am not able to fathom.
    Now a problem had cropped up. While the marines were in Italy and the Italian government was refusing to send them back the diplomatic channels were busy and during the negotiations India assured that if the marines are tried here in India and found guilty of killing the fishermen they will not be awarded death sentence. It is said that on that assurance only the marines were sent back to India.
    Now the Indian government is caught in a dilemma. National Investigating Agency will go after the marines armed with the Suppression of Unlawful Act which if applied the marines can be awarded capital punishment if found guilty. And India has assured that they will not be awarded capital punishment. Now they are toying with the idea to hand over the investigation to Central Bureau of Investigations which will go after the marines armed with Indian Penal Code which can be ‘bent’ not to award capital punishment if they are found guilty of murder.
    My question is ‘ how the same crime can draw two different punishment just because two different laws are applied’. The gravity of the crime is not changed. Is it right to give different punishment to the same crime just because two different laws give different opinion? Will it not be a miscarriage of justice?

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