Dame Sian Elias served as the 12th Chief Justice of New Zealand. Born in London in 1949 to a Welsh mother and an Armenian father she moved to Auckland, New Zealand in 1952. Sian Elias attended Auckland and Stanford Universities before joining an Auckland law firm in 1972 and being admitted a Barrister and Solicitor.
After serving as a Law Commissioner between 1984 and 1988, with responsibility for company law reform, Sian Elias became one of the first two women to be appointed Queen’s Counsel in New Zealand. A notable aspect of Sian Elias’s practice at the Bar and in during her judicial career has been her work in relation to claims brought under the terms of the Treaty of Waitangi (signed in 1840 between the British Crown and the Maori people).
Appointed to the High Court in 1995, Sian Elias became Chief Justice of New Zealand in 1999 and the first woman to be so appointed, serving until 2019. In 2004, New Zealand replaced the Privy Council in London as the final court of appeal with its own Supreme Court of New Zealand with Sian Elias the first president. Sian Elias returned to her Welsh roots when she was the Hamlyn Lecturer for 2016 and visited Cardiff University to deliver the first in the series of lectures on “Fairness in Criminal Justice”.
Between 2005 and 2008, in addition to the Chief Justice of New Zealand , the Speaker of the House of Representatives (Dame Margaret Wilson DCNZM) and the Prime Minister (Rt Hon Helen Clark ONZ, SSI) were also women.