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Why SC today agreed to extend deadline for sick Italian marine to return to India

A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by Justice Anil R Dave, and comprising justices Kurian Joseph and Amitava Roy, heard Massimiliano Latorre, one of the accused in the Italian marines case, who has been permitted by the Supreme Court to be in Italy in view of his health condition, and gave him further extension of time to return to India.

As the bench began the hearing at 3 30 PM today at Court No 2, it wanted to find out how long the judicial process in the case would remain suspended as per the direction of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) at Hamburg, Germany, on 25 August last year.

Latorre was represented by senior advocate, Soli Sorabjee, and the Union of India was represented by ASG, Pinky Anand.

As both parties did not have any objection regarding further extension of time till 13 April, the bench scheduled the next date of hearing until then.

The ITLOS, in its order, had asked India to “suspend all court proceedings and refrain from initiating new ones which might aggravate or extend the dispute submitted to the... arbitral tribunal or might jeopardise or prejudice the carrying out of any decision which the arbitral tribunal may render”.

India, as a state party to UNCLOS and as a responsible member of the international community that has consistently stood by its international obligations, has declared its intentions to continue to abide by the Tribunal’s decisions, including the present one on provisional measures.

When Sorabjee suggested a hearing in February to hear the substantive pleas against the prosecution of Latorre and Salvatorre Girone (who is staying in the Italian embassy in New Delhi), the bench was reluctant as it appeared the UNCLOS arbitration proceedings before the yet-to-be constituted Annex VII Arbitral Tribunal to hear the parties, may not be over by February.

The bench suggested to Sorabjee that extension of deadline until 13 April must satisfy his clients too.

Although the bench queried Latorre’s current health condition, which had earlier necessitated extension of deadline for his return to India last year from Italy, there was no discussion about it on Wednesday.

It was understood that suspension of judicial proceedings until 13 April, because of India’s commitment to ITLOS’ order, would be a blessing in disguise for Latorre who could remain in Italy till 13 April, and not having to bother convincing the Supreme Court about his current health condition, which would require his continued stay in Italy.

When Justice Dave referred to Subramanian Swamy’s related pending contempt petition in the matter, counsel said it has become infructuous. Swamy had filed the contempt petition in the matter filed in 2013, seeking action against the two Italian marines, who, he alleged had committed contempt of Supreme Court.

Justice Dave added that the bench’s decision had nothing to do with today’s media reports quoting the president of the defence committee of the Italian Senate, Nicola Latorre, that Massimiliano Latorre would not return to India and that Girone’s return to Italy would be facilitated.

Nicola Latorre’s reported remark has fuelled a controversy with politicians belonging to the Congress and the BJP seeking Latorre’s return to India, unmindful of the ITLOS’ order that has effectively tied Indian Supreme Court’s hands, at least till 13 April.

Photo by BobHall

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