Recent developments in Kerala owing to killing of Indian fishermen by armed marines boarded on Italian Vessel Enrica Lexie, has left open multiple legal questions, keeping lawyers awake for the past two weeks. The primary question was whether the marines accused of murder, be tried in Indian Courts as per Indian law, or whether Italian law be applicable being the law of flag state..? As of now, this question seems to be settled as the incident happened in the contiguous zone wherein Indian law is partially applicable so as to cover incidents of crimes, giving Indian Courts jurisdiction over the matter. Further, the vessel is currently berthed at Indian port and is cooperating with the investigation process.
However, it was visible that the domestic legal system was unprepared for such an event. True that this incident is first of its kind in India, but having a closer look at the existing laws concerning maritime (admiralty) law in India, we have reasons to be concerned. A section of jurists strongly contend that the provisions of a special statute Admiralty Offences (Colonial) Act,1849 read with Indian Penal Code,1860 will be the local statutes applicable in the instant case. The fact that we are still relying on a 163 year old archaic colonial statute, stresses the need for codifying and reforming maritime laws in India. Some other outdated admiralty laws, still existent in India are Admiralty Jurisdiction (India) Act, 1860, The Admiralty Court Act, 1861, Colonial Courts of Admiralty Act, 1890, Colonial Courts of Admiralty (India) Act, 1891. These laws derive their legitimacy from Art.372, Constitution of India, which states ….. all the laws in force in the territory of India immediately before the commencement of the Constitution shall continue in force therein until altered or repealed or amended by a competent Legislature or other competent authority.