The Right Honourable Dame Elias is the 12th Chief Justice of New Zealand and the first woman to be appointed to that office. She graduated from Auckland University with an LLB Honours Degree in 1970 and was admitted to the New Zealand Bar the same year. She studied at Stanford University, from which she graduated in 1972 with a Master’s Degree in Law. Following her return to New Zealand, Dame Sian worked first as a solicitor and then as a barrister in Auckland. In 1984-1989 she was a member of the Law Commission working particularly on the reform of company law.
In 1988, Dame Sian was appointed a Queen’s Counsel. She appeared in a number of significant cases, including cases concerning the Treaty of Waitangi. She was awarded a Commemorative Medal in 1990 in recognition of services to the legal profession.
In 1995, Dame Sian was appointed Judge of the High Court in Auckland. On 17 May 1999, she was appointed Chief Justice of New Zealand and was made a Dame Grand Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit. The Chief Justice was appointed a Privy Councillor in 1999 and first sat on the Privy Council in 2001.
When in 2003 the Supreme Court Act established a final Court of Appeal in New Zealand, the Chief Justice became the head of the new Supreme Court. That court began sitting in July 2004.