Silvia Cartwright

Dame Silvia Rose Cartwright PCNZM DBE QSO DStJ (née Poulter, born 7 November 1943) is a New Zealand jurist who served as the 18th Governor-General of New Zealand, from 2001 to 2006. She was the second woman to hold the office, after Dame Catherine Tizard.

Dame Silvia Cartwright

18th Governor-General of New Zealand
In office
4 April 2001  4 August 2006
MonarchElizabeth II
Prime MinisterHelen Clark
Preceded bySir Michael Hardie Boys
Succeeded bySir Anand Satyanand
3rd Chief District Court judge
In office
Preceded byPeter Trapski
Succeeded byRon Young
Personal details
Silvia Rose Poulter

(1943-11-07) 7 November 1943 (age 77)
Dunedin, New Zealand
(m. 1969; died 2019)
Alma materUniversity of Otago

Early life

Cartwright is a former student at Otago Girls' High School, and is a graduate of the University of Otago, where she gained her Bachelor of Laws degree in 1967.

Public life

In 1989, Cartwright became the first female Chief District Court Judge, and in 1993 she was the first woman to be appointed to the High Court.[1]

Cartwright presided over a 1988 inquiry into issues related to cervical cancer and its treatment at Auckland's National Women's Hospital, known as the Cartwright Inquiry. Cartwright has previously served on the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women,[1] and played a major role in the drafting of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.[2][3]

In 2007, in recognition for Cartwright's work as a lawyer, the Auckland Women Lawyers' Association established a lecture known as the Dame Silvia Cartwright Lecture Series.[4]

Governor-General of New Zealand

Cartwright's term as Governor-General of New Zealand was from 4 April 2001 to 4 August 2006. She was succeeded by Anand Satyanand at midday on 23 August 2006. During the intervening period, Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias was the Administrator of the Government (acting governor-general).[citation needed]

On 16 June 2002, Cartwright made a speech at the Annual General Meeting of Save The Children's New Zealand branch, in which she criticised section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961, which allowed parents to use "reasonable force" to discipline their children.[5] A number of groups criticised this position, such as the Society for the Promotion of Community Standards[6] – the Monarchist League stated that these comments were "overstepping the mark" for a representative of the Queen,[7] while Green Party MP Sue Bradford welcomed the comments.[8]

On 12 August 2002, in a speech at the opening of the Specialised Applied Research Centre of the Victoria University of Wellington, Cartwright questioned whether longer sentences would reduce criminal reoffending rates. This was after the Sentencing Act 2002 and the Parole Act 2002 were passed – Acts for which Cartwright granted Royal Assent on 12 July 2002. The Acts introduced mandatory sentences for criminal convictions, and reduced the likelihood of parole.[9] ACT New Zealand MP Stephen Franks was critical of the remarks, stating "I don't think she was regarded as one of the most weighty judges and she's putting herself into a difficult constitutional position by weighing in this area",[10] as was the Sensible Sentencing Trust. However, Prime Minister Helen Clark defended the governor-general, stating "One of the challenges for us is we clearly are no longer a dominion of Britain where the Governor-General is exactly like the Queen".[11]

On Waitangi Day 2004, following National leader Don Brash's controversial Orewa Speech on race relations, Cartwright controversially gave a different interpretation of the phrase "He iwi tahi tatou".[12]

Following the 2005 general election, former National deputy leader Gerry Brownlee stated that Cartwright had not allowed National the chance at forming a government. Brownlee said "I have to publicly say that I have lost respect for the Governor-General and I think it is time we sat down now and started to look at a much more formal constitution for New Zealand". In response, Helen Clark said that the governor-general followed a "very, very proper process".[13]

Cambodian War Crimes Tribunal

Cartwright was appointed to sit as one of two international judges in the Trial Chamber of the Cambodia Tribunal by Cambodia's Supreme Council of Magistracy.[14]

Multiple Defence requests that she stand down from this position have been consistently rejected by both the Trial Chamber and Supreme Court Chambers on their merits.[15]

The Khmer Rouge was responsible for the deaths of 1.2 to 2 million people between 1975 and 1979; one in four Cambodians were killed and whole families were wiped out.

Styles and honours

In the 1989 Queen's Birthday Honours, Cartwright was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, for services to women.[16] Upon her retirement from the High Court, she was granted the use of the style "The Honourable" for life. In 1990, Cartwright received the New Zealand 1990 Commemoration Medal,[17] and in 1993 she was awarded the New Zealand Suffrage Centennial Medal.[18] She was made a Principal Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2001, and she was awarded the Queen's Service Order at the State luncheon at Parliament to farewell her on 2 August 2006.

  • Her Honour Judge Silvia Rose Cartwright (1987–1989)
  • Her Honour Chief Judge Dame Silvia Rose Cartwright DBE (1989–1993)
  • The Hon. Justice Dame Silvia Rose Cartwright DBE (1993–2001)
  • The Hon. Justice Dame Silvia Rose Cartwright PCNZM, DBE (2001–2001)
  • Her Excellency The Hon. Dame Silvia Rose Cartwright PCNZM, DBE, Governor-General of New Zealand (2001–2006)
  • Her Excellency The Hon. Dame Silvia Rose Cartwright PCNZM, DBE, QSO, Governor-General of New Zealand (2006)
  • The Hon. Dame Silvia Rose Cartwright PCNZM, DBE, QSO (2006–)

Cartwright is an Honorary Member of The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation and a fellow of the Hastings Center, a bioethics research institution in the United States.[citation needed]

Personal life

In 1969, Cartwright married lawyer Peter John Cartwright.[19] He died on 17 April 2019.[20]


  1. "PM welcomes Governor-General-designate" (Press release). New Zealand Government. 24 August 2000. Retrieved 7 August 2010.
  2. "The Optional Protocol to the Women's Convention: Enabling Women to Claim their Rights at the International Level". Amnesty International. 1997. Retrieved 7 August 2010.
  3. Silvia Cartwright (1998). "Rights and Remedies: The Drafting of an Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women". Otago Law Review. 9: 239.
  4. Auckland District Law Society – Law News (6 July 2007). "Dame Silvia – making a difference to our world". Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 11 July 2007.
  5. Dame Silvia Cartwright (16 June 2002). "Speech to Save the Children AGM". Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 23 July 2007.
  6. "GG's Views on Smacking Kids Attack Family". 18 June 2002. Retrieved 7 August 2010.
  7. Monarchist League of New Zealand (November 2002). "Monarchy New Zealand, November 2002". Archived from the original on 26 October 2009. Retrieved 7 August 2010.
  8. "Violence against children shaping up as election issue". 17 June 2002. Retrieved 27 May 2015.
  9. Dame Silvia Cartwright (12 August 2002). "Speech at the Opening of the Specialised Applied Research Centre Victoria University Wellington". Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 23 July 2007.
  10. Television New Zealand (13 August 2002). "Dame Silvia joins sentencing debate". Retrieved 7 August 2010.
  11. "Clark foresees president role". The New Zealand Herald. NZPA. 15 August 2002. Retrieved 7 August 2010.
  12. "Governor-General expected to give different interpretation of Brash's treaty quote". 6 February 2004. Retrieved 23 July 2007.
  13. "Brownlee outburst backfires". The New Zealand Herald. 9 November 2005. Retrieved 23 July 2007.
  14. Government House. "Cartwright appointed Cambodian War Crimes Tribunal trial judge". Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 11 July 2007.
  15. See amongst others Decision on Motions for Disqualification of Judge Silvia CARTWRIGHT, E137/5, 2 December 2011 (ECCC Trial Chamber) (, Decision on IENG Sary’s Appeal Against the Trial Chamber’s Decision on Motions for Disqualification of Judge Silvia CARTWRIGHT, E137/5/1/3, 17 April 2012 (ECCC Supreme Court Chamber) ( and Decision on IENG Sary's Application for Disqualification of Judge Cartwright, E191/2, 4 June 2012 (ECCC Trial Chamber) (
  16. "No. 51774". The London Gazette (3rd supplement). 17 June 1989. p. 31.
  17. Taylor, Alister; Coddington, Deborah (1994). Honoured by the Queen – New Zealand. Auckland: New Zealand Who's Who Aotearoa. p. 92. ISBN 0-908578-34-2.
  18. "The New Zealand Suffrage Centennial Medal 1993 – register of recipients". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 26 July 2018. Retrieved 18 September 2018.
  19. "PM welcomes Governor-General-designate". New Zealand Government. 24 August 2000. Retrieved 29 April 2019.
  20. "Peter Cartwright death notice". The New Zealand Herald. 18 April 2019. Retrieved 18 April 2019.