Dame Sian Elias

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Dame Sian Elias, GNZM PC QC

Dame Sian Elias was New Zealand's first female Chief Justice (the highest judicial position in the country) and held the role for 20 years, from 1999 until March 2019.

Born in London she emigrated to Auckland as a child and in 1966 was one of a handful of female students at Auckland University's Law School. She was admitted to the bar in 1970, and studied further in the United States before entering legal practice in Auckland.

She specialised in company law, but became known for her work on Treaty of Waitangi claims. She was appointed as one of the first two female Queen's Counsels in 1988 and then as a judge of the High Court in 1995. 

Dame Sian became Chief Justice in 1999. In 2009, she caused controversy in a speech in which she called for new thinking around the problem of prison overcrowding, including possible early release of low-risk prisoners. She also suggested more funding for early childhood intervention could prevent 'blameless babes' eventually becoming some of our worst criminals.

In 1996, she was interviewed by RNZ's Brian Edwards and in this excerpt she talks about not realising law was an unusual career choice for a young woman, until she enrolled at Auckland University in 1966.

Find out more about Dame Sian Elias:

Listen to the full 1996 interview with Dame Sian Elias.

See this interview with Dame Sian about the Treaty of Waitangi.

Image credit: Dame Sian Elias (left) presides over the swearing in of Dame Patsy Reddy as Governor General, September 2016. Creative Commons.

Catalogue Reference 36856

Year 1996

Credits

Interviewer: Brian Edwards, Top o' the Morning, RNZ National

Excerpt: 00:02:13

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