Warner Banks finds his paradise

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 March, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 March, 1997, 12:00am

SWAYING palm trees, clear blue water and a golf course: former Hong Kong coroner Warner Banks has landed what may be the best lawyer's job in the world.

Mr Banks, 51, who abruptly resigned as coroner on the day he was due to face disciplinary proceedings, has been appointed Attorney-General of the world's smallest country as measured by population.

He now heads the four-person legal department of Niue, a coral atoll in the South Pacific with a population of 2,000.

Mr Banks' many high-profile cases included the two men who died at a China Light and Power plant explosion in 1992, but he resigned a year ago after he faced disciplinary proceedings for allegedly breaking regulations on sub-letting government flats.

Niue (pronounced 'New-ay', according to Mr Banks) is near the International Date Line and little else.

Major industries include diving tourism, passion fruit, coconut processing and producing large, brightly coloured postage stamps.

'On Friday afternoons I play golf with the New Zealand High Commissioner and the Premier, and afterwards we sit under the palm trees and discuss affairs of state.

'It's very pleasant,' said Mr Banks by phone from Alofi, the nation's capital.

Mr Banks doubles up as, among other things, law draftsman and coroner's assistant. He also advises the Niue Bank.

His department handles Niue's attempt to become a base for offshore companies keen on absolute secrecy and minimal regulation. The island has a common-law legal system and is a member of the Commonwealth, INTELSAT and various other international bodies.

Mr Banks returned to New Zealand last year and asked the department of Foreign Affairs if there were any jobs in the South Pacific.

They told him Niue, for which New Zealand has responsibility for defence and foreign affairs, was looking for a top lawyer.

He said he was explaining to Premier Frank Lui about the circumstances of his departure from Hong Kong before he got the job and Mr Lui told him he was not interested in hearing about it.