Dame Silvia was born in Dunedin and she graduated with a LLB from Otago University in 1967.
After several years in private practice, she embarked on a judicial career that culminated in her appointment to the High Court - the first woman in New Zealand to achieve this.
In 1987 and 1988, Dame Silvia chaired the Commission of Inquiry into the Treatment of Cervical Cancer and Other Related Matters at National Women's Hospital (the Cartwright Inquiry).
She was a member of the United Nations committee monitoring compliance with the United Nations Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1989 and Principal Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2001 and received the Queen's Service Order in 2006.
After completing her tenure as Governor-General in August 2006, she took up a position as a trial judge on the United Nations Tribunal investigating war crimes in Cambodia.
In 2019 she led the public inquiry into the Earthquake Commission
Read Dame Silvia Cartwright's biography on Wikipedia