And about time, too

Published: November 12, 2009 at 10:08am
Just six months in office as chief justice, and the inevitable happened. I thought it would take longer.

Just six months in office as chief justice, and the inevitable happened. I thought it would take longer.

So after seven years, the trial of former chief justice Noel Arrigo has begun. He has chosen to be tried by a judge and not by a jury, presumably in the belief that jurors would not have been sympathetic to his cause.

A judge is perhaps even less likely to be sympathetic, given that the man before him has, with one of his colleagues, brought the bench into disrepute and shaken people’s trust in it. But judges, unlike jurors, take their decisions according to the letter of the law (with a bit of its spirit thrown in) and don’t go on gut instinct as so many jurors do.

Arrigo is pleading not guilty (I’ll reserve judgement here), but his remarks on the interrogation tapes played in court just reek of sleaze and that chummy-chummy attitude that makes my skin crawl.

But guess what? I believe him when he says he doesn’t think he did anything wrong. It’s perfectly possible for people to do things that the law and the rest of society deem to be wrong, while they don’t, because their sense of morality is – well, different.

He doesn’t come across as a bad man who would go out of his way to do people harm or who takes pleasure in causing harm. He just seems to have a really shaky moral compass and a poor sense of where the boundaries lie. And that’s why he should never have been appointed to the bench – a disastrous decision with entirely foreseeable consequences – still less chief justice, a shockingly disgraceful parody of an appointment.

This was, after all, a judge who thought nothing of taking to the witness stand in the trial of a cocaine courier from a privileged background who ended up in a chaotic mess through a series of poor decisions(the infamous “but I thought it was emeralds” case), to give a character reference to the defendant on the grounds that he had known him at school and, take his word for it, he would never courier cocaine.

No, he would only smuggle emeralds.

I had laughed out loud at the time. A character reference from Noel Arrigo, in a sort of birds-of-a-feather flocking together scenario, would have been hilarious irony were it not for the fact that Noel Arrigo was a judge at the time and his decision to take to the witness stand was entirely out of order.

But, I imagine, as with the current case for which he now stands trial, he thought there was nothing wrong in doing so. He was only sticking up for an old friend while using his credibility – such as it was – as a judge.

In the police interrogation tapes played in court yesterday, Arrigo is heard telling the police commissioner that he planned to reduce the drug trafficker’s sentence in any case, and that he wasn’t influenced to do so. He refused all offers of gifts, he said. He wishes to convince that the decision was his alone and he was not persuaded by third parties.

The other two appeals court judges – one of whom has been imprisoned already for taking bribes to reduce that sentence, and the other completely innocent of all aspersions – agreed with him, he said. How he imagines that this is anything other than a non sequitur is beyond me to understand, but then at the time he wasn’t aware that the other judge would plead guilty and end up in prison.

All I can say is that with his kind of reasoning, I pity the people over whom he stood in judgement.

Arrigo told the police commissioner that he wanted to give the drug trafficker’s intermediary the impression that he was accommodating his request, even though he had taken the decision to reduce the sentence already, and had done so independently of any such influence.

Now why would he want the intermediary to think that he was accommodating his request?

I suppose we have yet to discover that as the proceedings develop, but as the police commissioner told him (and interrogating the chief justice must have been one of the high – or should that be low? – points of the police commissioner’s career) instead of reporting the intermediary to the police for criminal investigation, Arrigo hadn’t just carried on chatting to him, but had actually given him information about his decision on the judgement, before the Appeals Court delivered it.

One assumes that the chief justice, of all people, knows what any lawyer and even many civilians do: that approaching a judge directly to discuss a case or judgement, still more to persuade him one way or the other, is a criminal offence. If the judge plays along with it, then he is participating in the crime.

The trial should prove interesting, not least because Arrigo’s supporters, aside from his long-suffering wife, include the dreadful Jo Said, that man who popped up all over the place in the last general election, doing his damnedest to bring back Sant as prime minister because GonziPN is riddled with corruption.

Now there he is, lending his moral support, such as it is, to a man who stands accused of being unduly influenced to reduce the sentence of a drug trafficker, when he was – of all things – chief justice. But the magnificent irony almost certainly slips over Said’s head.

Well, what can I say? It’s no coincidence that no one, to my knowledge, has ever said of Arrigo and his disgrace that they expected better of him. And that was precisely because nobody did expect better of him.

Is that an awful thing to say? No. What was awful, on the other hand, is the insult to democracy and the standing of the court when he was made first a judge and then chief justice.

That was unforgivable.

This article is published in The Malta Independent today.

43 Comments Comment

  1. gahan says:

    I hope this article is within the parameters of law and does not interfere in the jury process. I wholeheartedly agree with every word you wrote. Is the presiding Judge isolated from the media and the public?

    [Daphne – Read it again. There is no jury process. And even if there were, the fictitious reason for the unofficial ban on discussion of ongoing trials has long since been dismissed. Judges do not have to be isolated from discussion about the trials over which they preside, because they may not (as opposed to might not) be influenced by such matters – which is, in case you missed it, the essential point of this trial.]

    • gahan says:

      So basically no one can cry ‘foul’, or sub-judice? [Daphne – No. Because 1. to do so would be to impugn the judge by suggesting that I can inlfuence him with my comments, and 2. this is a free country and people are allowed to discuss trials.]

      Some sections of the media wrongly referred to this trial as ‘il-guri’
      when it is not.

      [Daphne – That’s what I mean when I object vociferously to the language of the ignorant being given the stamp of officialdom. The ignorant began to refer to trials by jury as ‘il-guri’, when the jury is the panel of jurors rather than the trial itself, and this became official terminology. There is no actual Maltese word for trial by judge or jury. The legal system uses a corruption of the Italian word for trial, minus the final o: processo. So correct Maltese, if there can ever be such a thing, would be ‘Il-process kontra Noel Arrigo’ and most certainly not ‘il-guri ta’ Noel Arrigo’ unless Noel Arrigo keeps a pet jury beneath his bed and feeds it with bits of Old Edwardians who try to buy his compliance.]

      • Twanny says:

        All living languages develop and change – sometimes very rapidly. Words go out of use and new ones are coined. The meaning of words can contract, expand or just change. This is a natural development and has nothing to do with ignorance or cleverness.

        [Twanny – It has everything to do with ignorance, Twanny. Only the ignorant fail to understand that jury means the panel of jurors and not the trial process. Yes, in past centuries words changed their meaning in this way because almost everyone was illiterate. There is no excuse for such ignorance now. And if the word ‘guri’ is used to refer to the trial, rather than to the jury, what word is Maltese going to deploy for ‘jury’? Guri as well? Din bhal pirmli u petlor u slipper u pocket (pencil-case).]

        If the majority of the Maltese people have started to use the worg “ġuri” to refer to a trial, even one without a jury, then “ġuri” in Maltese now means trial. “Process” has never really caught on, except in the (still) highly Italianised legal mileau.

        [Daphne – And if the majority of Maltese people begin spelling milieu as you do, will that make it correct? I hardly think so. You may have failed to notice that the French words which entered the English language when people were illiterate and ignorant changed their form and spelling, but the French words which entered the English language more recently in historical terms, when people were more educated (like milieu) continue to be spelled the French way. The assimilation into the Maltese language of errors of meaning and spelling is a sign of ignorance and illiteracy, and nothing else. It is not something to be proud of, but something to be embarrassed by.]

        Language is, perhaps, the one sector where the dictum “vox populi, vox dei” holds true 100%.

        [Daphne – Hardly, which is why Queen Elizabeth doesn’t speak the same way as Peggy Mitchell in Eastenders, and why it is the official version of the language is not Peggy Mitchell’s but the queen’s – hence, the Queen’s English.]

      • Carmelo Ellul says:

        qatt smajtu bil-kliem: “guri bil-gurati” u “guri minghajr gurati” jew inkella: “se jghaddi guri bla gurija” jew “ser jghaddi guri quddiem gurija” ? Nghidu “ser jghaddi guri” biex inqassru l-kliem peress li l-kelma process tinftiehem ghal kwalunkwe process sija ta’ tribunal sija ta’ qorti kostituzzjonali, imma nahseb li ghal min irid ifittex ix-xaghra fl-ghagina, dan huwa xi skandlu kbir li nahlu artiklu shih fuqu.

      • Pawc says:

        “Din bhal pirmli u petlor u slipper u pocket (pencil-case).”

        It’s funny that you should mention the latter, because I have just posted a comment to the same effect elsewhere on this blog.

        Shockingly, a pencil-case is referred to as “pokit” in Maltese schoolbooks, with, of all things, a French “accent aigue” on the “o”!

        My young daughter is getting embarrassed, because I refuse to let her learn such words, and insist on crossing them off her books – putting in a more precise word where it exists, or the correct English version in inverted commas where it does not.

        She recently had to state the plural of “gibsa” (you know – a piece of chalk, in much the same way as certain people would refer to a chip as “cipsa”).

        Whatever next? Oh yes! “Bwietz” for a pair of boots, but let’s not deviate from Arrigo …

      • Pawc says:

        I want to scream. Take a look at this, extracted from :

        “n-nom IngliŜ xorta jinkiteb skond il-fonoloāija Maltija
        biex b’hekk ikun hemm uniformità fejn jidħol iz-zokk
        morfemiku, eŜ. għax ngħidu tiskenja niktbu skener, għax
        ngħidu tibbraxxja niktbu braxx, għax ngħidu
        tisponsorja niktbu sponsor, għax niktbu timmoniterja
        niktbu moniter, għax niktbu tifflaxxja niktbu flaxing”

      • Pawc says:

        Ahjar immur, ghax irrid NISKENNJA xi haga u nqeda fil-POKIT biex ma’ ninsihiex meta nkun sejra nixtri SLIPER minghand dak ta’ hdejn il-GROWSER.

  2. Ian says:

    Noel Arrigo’s appointment as both judge and chief justice stands out like a sore thumb within the context of appointments to the judiciary made by then prime minister Eddie Fenech Adami from 1987 onwards. I cannot understand what (who?) on earth could have led to it.

    [Daphne – It is particularly ironic when one considers that an exemplary man like Michael Mallia was made a magistrate but not a judge – until now – because he had separated from his wife. But Noel Arrigo was all right because he continues to live with his wife while chasing after every skirt in town, with varying degrees of success, and grabbing at women under the dinner-table even on formal occasions.]

    • Anthony V Falzon says:

      I wonder who advised the PM to make that appointment? Not an Old Edwardian with the PM’s ear one hopes.

      [Daphne – It’s the minister of justice who selects judges and magistrates, not the prime minister, though the prime minister can and should veto any appointment he deems unacceptable.]

      • Carmelo Ellul says:

        It’s the President’s prerogative under the Constitution who has the power to veto any appointment made by the Prime Minister, as happened in the case of Dr Andre’ Camilleri who would have been a good judge in the Maltese Bench. But somehow was torpedoed on banalities.

    • Carmelo Ellul says:

      imma kif ma tisthix tghid fuq in-nies pubblikament. Mhux ahjar tghidilna l-hajja tieghek milli tfettaq fuq dak u l-iehor? Ma nafx ghadx tara wicc Alla jekk temmen fih.

  3. Harry Purdie says:

    So this guy’s somewhat dubious reputation preceded his appointment as a judge, never mind chief justice? I was going to send your article in to my lawyer son in Switzerland, then thought to myself ‘he won’t believe it’. However, I sent it anyway. Just received his response: “I don’t believe it”.

  4. Leonard says:

    “What was awful, on the other hand, is the insult to democracy and the standing of the court when he was made first a judge and then chief justice.”

    Precisely. But being appointed judge and subsequently chief justice isn’t exactly like getting a job as an errand boy. Why do you stop short of naming names? Who is accountable for these decisions? Who are the powerful people behind Arrigo?

    • Antoine Vella says:

      If there are/were powerful interests behind Arrigo, this trial shows that they can only protect you up to a point in today’s Malta.

      Remember this is not the Malta of the 1970s-1980s when there was enough healthy contempt for moral bigotry that a lesbian could become president but also more than enough unhealthy contempt for rule of law that the courts could become mere political tools in the hands of the regime. The Blue Sisters’ case comes to mind, for example. One of many.

      • Leonard says:

        Antoine, my point is not about bringing Noel Arrigo to justice, but about holding accountable whoever was responsible to appoint an unsuitable person, first as judge and subsequently as chief justice.

  5. Two wieghts says:

    Not that I condone what crime he may have committed, but speculating on his private life (“private” is the key word here) is irrelevant and unfair on his family.

    [Daphne – It’s not speculation, and the private lives of judges and chief justices are not just open to scrutiny, but SHOULD be. Perhaps if it were more widely known, particularly to the prime minister of the time, that Noel Arrigo couldn’t keep his hands or another part of his body to himself then he wouldn’t have been made a judge in the first place, still less chief justice, and the country would never have had to be put the trauma of watching its chief justice interrogated for bribery in connection with a drug dealer’s prison sentence.]

  6. C.Galea says:

    The way the terminology developed in Maltese appears to be:

    Trial by jury = ġuri
    Jurors = ġurati (same as grasshoppers incidentally)

    I didn’t think that the actual people were called ‘jury’ in English, always thought they were ‘jurors’ by the way.

    The way the Maltese versions evolved make it difficult to change now that they’re deeply ingrained in the language I guess.

  7. Frank P says:

    I guess “proċess ġudizzjarju” is more appropriate rather than guri.

    • Carmelo Ellul says:

      fid-dinja hawn virtu’ (principju) ghallem lil min ma jafx! U ha nipprova nimitah. Persuna li tersaq quddiem l-ghatba tal-qorti, akkuzata b’xi reat, irid jghaddi PROCESS GUDIZZJARJU. L-ewwel jigi akkuzat fil-Qorti preseduta mill-Magistrat tal-Ghassa li war ajappunta l-kawza ghall-KUMPILAZZJONI TAX-XHIEDA. U tibda l-Kumpilazzjoni (process gudizzjarju iehor billi jinstemghu ix-xhieda kollha). Il-Magistrat li jkun qed jippresiedi l-Kumpilazzjoni, fit-tmiem jiddeciedi jekk ghandhux jghaddieh GURI (bix-xhieda u minghajra, jghazel l-akkuzat), jew JILLIBERAH. U l-akkuzat jibda jghaddi GURI (TRIAL by Jury or without Jury). Ghalhekk it-tidwir mal-lewza qatt ma nizilli u diskors vojt u loghob bil-kliem qatt ma mpressjonani. U min mhux Malti m’ghandhux jahli hinu fi hmerijiet li ma jifhimx fihom.

    • C.Galea says:

      It would appear to be, only “proċess ġudizzjarju” means simply a court trial, with no mention of jurors being anywhere.

      [Daphne – Yes, that’s because Maltese is an inefficient language. And hence ‘trial by jury’ becomes ‘process gudizzjarju b’ guri.]

  8. let us also remember that this person is human and fallable like us…like us he has a family which has to endure the tormentation of seeing him behind bars next to the others he has judged and thrown into prison…once in prison (if the sentence is such) he will understand that everyone is fallable and see the world in a different shade and learn from this experience. You might say I’ being a hypocrit..on one side I’m shocked corruption reached up to such a point where even a chief justice is subject to corruption allegations..on the other hand I’m trying to comprehend his situation.

    • Harry Purdie says:

      Hey Markie! What the hell are you trying to say? Please clean up your English, spelling and grammar. Perhaps that may help. On the other hand, if you could find another brain cell (that would make two) your thought process could, possibly, become more coherent.

  9. Cassandra Montegna says:

    And a discussion on the Chief Justice’s fall from grace transforms into an interesting aside about the peculiarities of the Maltese language – Priceless.

    (I still can’t believe that man was Chief Justice. Shame!!)

  10. Harry
    I may seem incoherent becuase I look at both sides of the coin…from his perspective he made a mistake and now he will have to bear the brunt harshly becuase he holds a high position so he will probably become a victim to appease the public outrage. jekk filkaz nibda nikteb bil malti jekk l-ingliz tieghi m’huwiex ghal altezza tieghek sur harry. Jekk Daphne tittollera lil min jikteb bil-malti.

    • Antoine Vella says:

      Mark Cuschieri

      “….he will probably become a victim to appease the public outrage.”

      Are you seriously saying that Noel Arrigo is a victim?

    • Harry Purdie says:

      Markie, a bit better, however, please get a spell check. ‘Mistake’? Since he got caught? ‘Victim’? ‘Appease the outrage’? This guy is a criminal. Unfortunately, the remainder of your post is in Maltese, which I do not understand. However, I assume it follows the thread of your previous posts, which means you have not found that second brain cell.

  11. Two wieghts says:

    Daphne, you are mixing two unrelated things:

    – a person can be celibate and still be corrupt and on the other hand a person can be the village bicycle and nonetheless not be a criminal.

    This is sensationalist and quite base.

    Discussing alleged public crimes is great, dragging personal issues isn’t… contradicting yourself on “each to his own” (in private) –

    [Daphne – Each to his own does not apply to persons in positions of trust like the chief justice and the police commissioner. And we are not talking about criminality here but about really poor judgement, and that’s what can sometimes lead to crime, as in the case of Noel Arrigo. I was once at a very small formal dinner on board a Royal Navy ship. Two of the other couples present were Judge and Mrs Noel Arrigo and a Maltese High Commissioner and his wife, who shall go unnamed. Throughout the proceedings I realised that Mrs High Commissioner seemed to be very upset. When we left the ship, she took a swing at the judge and hit him hard across the face, giving him a very loud telling-off in front of us all. He was seated next to her and had been grabbing her bottom all evening, taking advantage of the fact that her good manners would prevent her embarrassing her host with a scene at table. If you think this is ‘to each his own’ and that judges are entitled to behave like this because it is their private life, then fine. But he was behaving like this long before he became a judge, and I repeat that it’s one of the reason he shouldn’t have been appointed to the bench. He is, as the Maltese idiom has it, bla dekor.]

  12. well Harry Purdie I suggest you do like what was suggested to the other foreigners in Malta…that is to learn maltese…preferably before insulting any Maltese and before trying to show how much you know about the Maltese and Malta ..thanks.
    Antoine…I was also shocked and disgusted when I read about the case..however after some time I thought that this person is human and fallible like the rest of us..what’s wrong with that line of tought.

  13. Harry Purdie says:

    Markie, you exhibit the tasteless attitude of all xenophobes. Not surprising, considering the source. I have spent over 15 years on these islands creating employment for the Maltese, much more important than learning the language. My Maltese grandchildren will, hopefully, assist me in that endeavour in the future. By the way, hundreds of thousands of sperm in one ejaculation and you were the fastest? Amazing.

  14. Pawc says:

    The man who thought he was smuggling emeralds?

  15. Giordano Bruno says:

    I totally disagree with Daphne that Maltese is an inefficient language even though I’m not quite certain what she means by that. Maltese is as efficient as any other language to those who know how to speak it and write it well. It may be inefficient to those who still believe, quite incorrectly, that Maltese is Arabic and consider any word of non-Semitic origin as not Maltese.

    To me, any Italian word (within reason) is potentially a Maltese word and I’m never in difficulty when speaking Maltese. For classification purposes, Maltese is included in the family of Semitic languages but it is heavily Latinized and cannot be called Arabic anymore.

    The word for trial is “process” to which one may add “gudizzjarju” if the meaning is not clear from the context – which, in this discussion, is not the case as we all know what we’re talking about. “Guri” is just popular (incorrect) terminology. What about a trial in the magistrate’s court where there is never a jury and the case is decided by the magistrate alone? It’s even more ludicrous to call it jury.

    As is known, the jurisdiction of the Magistrates’ court was extended some years back. One must also remember that a jury does not only pronounce a verdict as to guilty or not guilty only but may also decide, for instance, whether a person charged with a crime was sane or not at the time of the commission of the crime – what is sometimes called a “gurin” – and this is done before the trial proper is even started if, indeed, it ever is.

    Grand juries in the US also decide such matters before the trial proper commences. What word the Maltese used to denote a trial before the British period (it was Maitland who introduced trials by jury and that’s when the word was presumably adopted into Maltese) is not known to me but I suppose it was “process”.

  16. Harrie Purdie I guess 15 years in not enough to understand Malta..if you still believe Malta does not want immigration becuase they are racists…we just dont want scores of africans 99% men coming over vouching to take our women becuase europe stole everything from africa. I am perplexed how the goverment went to ask EU about the council of Europe..where’s Simon’s the Burden Sharer knowledge haha
    this is the resolution and Malta had a minister or ambassador who did not object that while in Muslim countries people are being tortured, mutilated, death penalties and honor killings…we cant even hang our cross in our own country.
    It was a deal between the turks/arabs now called alliance of civiliastions
    ( and eu behind our backs. Zapatero came up with the idea. A shady deal (maybe for the new gas pipeline..or maybe because Europe needs migrants. So while sending troops in muslim lands killing them..he wants to integrate us apparently…this project is co-sponsored by turkey by the way..unlike spain we did not have conquistadors…never stole from africa..the maltese never hated the english or anyone else that much for that matter…before the immigration explosion we were very tollerant if you think I hate the british…then I guess I was really a fast sperm and you could not catch up with me and understand me haha. But I have been living in Malta for 29 years Harry so I guess I know twice as much as you about Malta.

  17. Harry Purdie says:

    Markie, why must you persist in consistently displaying your ineptitude? Reading the above meanderings indicates that your train of thought is in serious need of a caboose. With respect to your quickness as a sperm, I suspect your gene pool could use a little chlorine. Go home, Markie, you are depriving some poor village of its idiot.

    • Calling those that don’t agree with you idiots will only enlighten your own ignorance Harry.
      second fact..I am at home already…in my families home…which my grandparents..parents worked hard for and sweated their entire lifes. And in my own country born and bred. My train of tought might seem confusing for you, could be also due to the fact that english is not my primary language..funny how in 15 years you didn’t manage to pick up the maltese language..talking about village idiots…indeed.

      • Pat says:

        Well, your intelligence seems disputed by several posters, myself included.

        Not sure how old you are, but the fact that basic punctuation is as alien to you as rational thought, is a tad worse than Harry not picking up Maltese.

  18. Harry Purdie says:

    Markie, whatever it is that’s eating you, it must be suffering horribly. I’m busy now, can I ignore you some other time?

  19. Pat ..this is not a dictation class…I’m used to chatting so please bear in mind that I tend to ignore some punctuation marks to speed things up…in the same context a doctor is not intelligent becuase he writes in shorthand..ejja naqtawa msomma ghax qed tigi tedjanti l haga noqghodu ghassa mal vokabularju u nilabghuha ta Sir Temi Zammit jew Wordsworth…stay focused on the topic not on my syntax and grammar..It would make you look far less stupid. Any comment about this morning’s power outage daphne.?

    [Daphne – No. I can’t think of anything more tedious than discussing electricity, unless it’s discussing the budget. But I do have a comment about the rest of what you’ve said: it takes as long to write a proper, correctly spelled sentence as it does to write the sort of thing you do, so you might as well go for the former. If it takes you longer to write properly, this means that you can’t write or spell in any situation (to me, for example, it is correct writing that comes automatically, while I have to stop and think before constructing something like yours). So it is obviously a problem that you need to address, fast, if you wish to get on in life. You really have no excuse. You grew up in a (nominally) bilingual country and have been exposed to English all your life. If Pat can manage it, and he’s a Swede who grew up speaking Swedish in Sweden, then surely you can, too. Even your Maltese is terrible. I’m not saying this to be mean, but because you really have a problem there and you need to solve it. Also, this is not a chatroom, so please don’t treat it like one. Thank you.]

    • Pat says:

      “stay focused on the topic not on my syntax and grammar..It would make you look far less stupid.”

      Agreed, reading your syntax and grammar does make me stupid. Problem is it’s very hard to avoid.

    • Would it astound you if I said I have an advanced level of education in both the English and Maltese language…grade D and E true…but still.
      Secondly…I’m not obliged to be bilingual…but it would be in my best interest. How annoying! Now I have to use short sentences and make sure I don’t miss an exclamation mark!becuase Sir Temina Daphne Zammit doesn’t like the way I construct sentences. Ha ha how boring Daphne.
      Your friends just rioted in france Daphne because they lost their fifa match…ara fiex waslu jahasra l ewropa u int tridna hekk…ikollna noqodu nismaw loghob taghhom nitolbu li ma jitilfux halli ma jifqalnix l faccata tal hanut jew l karozza. Qeghdin sew eh! ma tirragunax la maghkom u qas ma dan nies. Jiddispjacini. I don’t need you to tell me what problems I do or do not have. You do not know me. And your prejudice and speedy judgement just outshines your ignorance. Thanks. Let’s leave the matter here.

    • daphne a budget speech? how boring…switching channel now..imma faqani hin minnhom Gonzi qallu superficjali lil Joseph ingrevajjet u makeup haha dahhaqni tnejn.

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