Salve withdraws as counsel for Italian marines

New Delhi: "Insulted" and "shocked" by Italy's stand on the marines issue, senior Supreme Court advocate Harish Salve has quit as counsel for the Italian government in the fishermen killing case.

Salve said that now it is "a question of Indian prestige" and the government will be "justified" in the tough steps it takes in the matter after the Italian government refused the return of two marines, charged with killing of two Indian fishermen last year.

"I am an Indian first and then a senior counsel and after that comes my duty to my client and I feel insulted…I feel that first of all we are officers of court and secondly in a matter like this, the client has to take you into confidence and if the client does not have confidence in you, I think we owe it to the system not to continue," he said.

"Now its a question of Indian prestige, prestige of the Supreme Court, prestige of all of us is at stake and I think that Government of India will be justified in the toughest steps it takes," he said.

Salve said the Italian government's conduct was "disappointing" especially after they had "acceded" to our jurisdiction and the apex court had taken up the case out of turn and had even given a "substantial relief" by quashing the proceedings in Kerala and shifting it to Delhi.

The two accused marines, Massimiliano Lattore and Salvatore Girone, were allowed by the apex court on February 22 to travel to Italy for four weeks under the control and custody of the Ambassador of Italy in India, to cast their ballot in the elections scheduled for February 24 and 25.

The court had said that the marines are only allowed to travel to Italy and remain there and will have to return to India.

Salve said, "They (marines) acceded to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. A very busy Supreme Court heard their case out of turn, gave substantial relief, quashed proceedings in Kerala, brought it here, let them live in Delhi, was trying to get the government to set up a court and all these questions of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), etc. everything would be gone into. Then this happens. So it is very disappointing".

Salve said there was no suggestion, implied or otherwise, from the Italian government that they are going to take such a stand and said that he was "shocked" when he came to know about it through the media.

"Never. On the contrary, the assurance was given. It was honoured the first time. That is why the court and the Indian government in an act of nobility agreed…," he said adding, "It came as a complete shock to me when I saw news headlines saying Italian government directly informed Government of India."

On who in the Italian government should be held responsible for their decision, Salve said that while the undertaking was given by their Ambassador, it was "powers above him (Ambassador) who gave the instructions.

"It's his undertaking. Beyond that I have no idea," he said, adding, "I am sure its powers above him (the Ambassador) who gave the instruction and I don't know who as they are interacting directly with the Indian government."

Terming the whole turn of events as "unfortunate", he said that the matter now has to be resolved at the level of the two governments.

"What happened was very unfortunate. I think now it has to be resolved at the level of the two governments," he said.

The two marines were on board the Italian vessel 'Enrica Lexie', when they had shot dead the two fishermen on February 15, last year.