Political trouble in paradise sees controversial lawman Warner Banks given one

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 September, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 September, 1999, 12:00am

A FORMER Hong Kong coroner who left the SAR after an investigation by the Judiciary has been sacked at one hour's notice as attorney-general of the smallest self-governing state in the world.

New Zealander Warner Banks was forced from his job in Niue - a coral atoll in the South Pacific with a population of about 2,000.

Mr Banks, 53, joined the Hong Kong Judiciary in 1983.

He resigned in March 1996 after an internal investigation into allegations he had violated its housing rules by sub-letting his flat to his then girlfriend, teacher Chris Macartney, whom he later married.

He left before a three-day disciplinary hearing was due to start in March of that year.

Affectionately known as 'The Rock', the independently ruled island has only 13 villages but is presided over by a premier and 20-member elected assembly, from which three cabinet posts are filled.

Mr Banks told the Sunday Morning Post he believed he was fired for telling the Government once too many times the new premier and cabinet were exceeding their powers.

A March election saw premier Frank Lui replaced by former New Zealand army major Sani Lakatani.

Mr Banks, who had been in the job for 2.5 years, left the island on June 3 and is now in Australia with his wife.

'It's not unusual for senior expatriate advisers to lose their jobs on a change of government,' Mr Banks said. 'One views this as an occupational hazard.' Asked if he may return to Hong Kong, he said: 'I am always open to considering any reasonable job offers.' Mr Banks claims a heated stand-off between a heavyweight in the assembly and the new Speaker of the House finally led to his dismissal.

His problems arose when Speaker Tama Posimani ordered popular legislative member O'Love Jacobson to stop speaking during the assembly's first sitting.

Mrs Jacobson refused and was ordered to withdraw from the House.

She again refused, 'and stated that the only way she would leave the House was if she was physically carried out in her chair', Mr Banks said, adding: 'She weighs around 100kg.' He claims he became embroiled when the Speaker ordered the Chief of Police to arrange for Mrs Jacobson's removal.

Mr Banks said the order was outside the Speaker's powers and advised the police chief, former New Zealand detective senior sergeant Andrew Lovelock, to suggest an adjournment for a 'cooling-off period'.

The Speaker declined, Mrs Jacobson stayed until the end of the session, and the police chief was suspended.

Mr Banks said he advised Mr Lovelock there was no jurisdiction for his suspension, and told him to ignore the order. Mr Lovelock was sacked while seeking recourse in the island's High Court.

Soon afterwards, the Premier told Mr Banks he had an hour to clear his desk or he would be evicted.

He quickly departed and spent the afternoon playing golf.

Attempts to reach the Premier in Niue for comment yesterday were unsuccessful.