SC allows Italian marines to go home to cast votes

With the Centre yet to set up a special court to try the two Italian marines accused of killing two Kerala fishermen in sea last years, the Supreme Court on Friday allowed them to travel to Italy for four weeks to exercise their franchise in the general election there on February 24 and 25.

A Bench led by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir relied on an affidavit by the Italian ambassador that the accused marines Massimiliano Lattore and Salvatore Girone could not cast their votes through postal ballot while permitting them to travel on an undertaking by the ambassador.

"We are inclined to allow the prayer. The petitioners are bound by the orders of this court dated January 18, as also Italian laws. Republic of Italy shall take full responsibility to ensure they comply with all the conditions and come back as scheduled," it said.

Asserting that the investigation against them during the last one year has been found to be "illegal", the marines had sought to travel back to Italy for four weeks since the legal process was apparently going to take time and they could, if allowed to travel, exercise their franchise in the upcoming election.

Asked to clarify their stand, Centre's Additional Solicitor General P P Malhotra contended that it should first be ascertained that postal ballot was not allowed in Italy. In response, the marines' counsel adduced the Italian ambassador's affidavit in this regard. The Bench also noted that similar undertaking was given last year when the Kerala High Court had allowed the duo to go to Italy for Christmas.

"You tell us what is the status of the special court. How far you have progressed? Why is this dragging? Trial should not be delayed. Had you set up a court, their trial would have been over by now. If they are found guilty, they will be punished and if not, they are set free," said the Bench, which had in its January verdict asked the Centre to set up a special court after consultation with the CJI.

As the ASG could not come up with a concrete response, the court added: "Nobody has made attempt for consultation for setting up of court. We are waiting for a consultation but nobody has initiated it ."

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