NZ lawyer takes job with Fiji regime

By Claire Trevett

A Christchurch barrister, Christopher Pryde, has been appointed Solicitor-General for the interim Government of Fiji and will defend it against court action challenging its legality.

Asked if he had any qualms about taking a role in the military Government of Commodore Frank Bainimarama, Mr Pryde said his position was not political.

"I am a lawyer and it's as a public servant really. I provide legal advice to the Attorney-General. It's really a lawyer-client relationship."

He had long had business contacts in Fiji and said he was asked there to help in the constitutional cases that came up after the coup. He would not say by whom.

"It's a good opportunity for me personally."

Mr Pryde was appointed for a five-year term after working with the Fijian Attorney-General's office since January, including representing the interim Government in some constitutional cases.

One of his first cases as Solicitor-General will be representing the Government in a hearing on a motion to the courts for a declaration that the December 5 coup and the overturning of the Government was illegal.

The motion - set for a hearing in October - was lodged by the SDL, the political party led by ousted Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase.

As a New Zealand citizen, Mr Pryde cannot be banned from entering New Zealand under travel sanctions imposed on Fijian officials by the Government in Wellington, which is demanding concrete plans for democratic elections.

However, Mr Pryde said the travel bans were deterring good people from applying for jobs with the Government.

"My personal opinion is that it's not really helpful to Fiji. We need to move on from what happened in December. That matter is now in the courts."

He said his first priority was to staff the office - his post has been vacant since the coup.

A spokesman for Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters said the point of the travel ban was to make things difficult.

He would not comment on Mr Pryde's appointment, saying it was up to the interim Government to do what it wanted.

The Fiji Times said former Solicitor-General Nainendra Nand would not comment on Mr Pryde's appointment, but maintained his own sacking after the coup was unlawful.

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