Sunday, September 25, 2011

Aarno Arvela (1946-2011), a man of justice

Aarno Arvela (1946-2011) was one of Finland's most highly regarded lawyers. He commanded respect because of his sober and balanced way. He had an important role in committees of the Ministry of Justice when they were preparing reforms in the criminal procedure in the 1990s. He also represented the Finnish Bar Association in several other committees.

Our paths crossed when I participated in the abolition of film censorship in the 1990s, a joint project of the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Justice. During the "film prohibition" organized crime had interests in the huge business of illegal distribution, which sometimes made such cases interesting for the police.

In the media Arvela made headlines as the defense attorney for the most infamous criminals and the most sensational cases, although such cases were but a fraction of his work. Reporters tried in vain to detect in him a perverse streak because of them. The opposite was true. Because of his exceptional sense of balance Arvela was an excellent choice in sensational cases. He could take the pressure.

I don't know if the accounts of U.S. American trials in Hollywood films reflect reality. In Hollywood films trials are a form of show business where the most flamboyant orator with the most ingenious intrigue emerges victorious. Justice is often a casualty.

Arvela was the opposite of that, an embodiment of a long tradition of sticking to the facts and avoiding drama. He was a man of the law and an advisor to lawmakers, but law can only deal with just a little. Society is based on "un contrat social", a basic trust that people do the right thing. Justice is the foundation of society. Arvela was a man of justice.

He was also a popular public speaker on themes of education and violence. Education is more important than law. Children need to be taught about right and wrong. Our infantile instinct is revenge, but revenge is the opposite of justice. Revenge is injustice.

Arvela had his holiday home in Ireland, and he was an active member of the Finnish-Irish Society. He was also a film-lover and a Midnight Sun Film Festival regular. The last time I saw him was at our Cinema Orion, where he followed our Robert Guédiguian retrospective this spring.

Arvela was an embodiment of patience, and he had a sense of humour which was never cynical, although he knew the dark side of life. A man to remember.

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