Prior to her appointment as Governor-General, she was perhaps best known to the public for presiding 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.
She is married to Peter Cartwright.
In 2007, in recognition for her work as a lawyer, the Auckland Women Lawyers’ Association established a lecture known as the Dame Silvia Cartwright Lecture Series .
On 12 August 2002, in a speech at the opening of the Specialised Applied Research Centre of the Victoria University of Wellington, Dame Silvia 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 Dame Silvia granted Royal Assent on 12 July 2002. The Acts introduced mandatory sentences for criminal convictions, and reduced the likelihood of parole. 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 in this area", 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".
On Waitangi Day 2004, following National leader Don Brash's controversial Orewa Speech on race relations, Dame Silvia controversially gave a different interpretation of the phrase "He iwi tahi tatou".
Following the 2005 general election, former National deputy leader Gerry Brownlee stated that Dame Silvia 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" .
Dame Silvia Cartwright is an Honorary Member of The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation
Promoting New Zealand Inc: Dame Silvia Cartwright Reflects on the Role of the Governor-General in Promoting New Zealand in the World
Sep 01, 2006; The Governor-General's role is often described as the three Cs--constitutional, ceremonial and community. These three roles are...
Two Countries in Transition: Dame Silvia Cartwright Describes Vice Regal Visits She Made to East Timor and Bahrain
Jul 01, 2002; New Zealanders are a modest people more accustomed to working quietly and effectively behind the scenes internationally and...