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How journalists were allowed to report Baby Elsa’s family court hearing

East London Family Court in Canary Wharf (Callum Parke/PA)
East London Family Court in Canary Wharf (Callum Parke/PA)

A family court judge has ruled that it can be reported that a child found in a shopping bag in east London earlier this year has two full siblings abandoned in similar circumstances.

Following an application by the PA news agency and the BBC, Judge Carol Atkinson said on Monday at East London Family Court that it could be published that the child, known as Baby Elsa, has a brother and a sister who were discovered in 2017 and 2019 respectively.

It comes following efforts to increase transparency in the family court system.

Previously, reporters have had access to courts dealing with sensitive matters involving children, despite them being closed to the public.

However, reporting has been highly restricted to only what a judge will allow, to protect the identities of those involved.

Under a new transparency pilot scheme, introduced last year, accredited journalists and legal bloggers could access three family courts – Leeds, Cardiff and Carlisle – to report on cases more freely.

This was expanded earlier this year to allow accredited journalists and legal bloggers to report on cases to 16 courts across England and Wales as they happen, as they would do in the criminal courts.

This includes East London Family Court, as well as Manchester, Nottingham, the Central Family Court in London and others.

While the identities of the families and certain professionals involved remain protected, judges can set out what details may be reported under a Transparency Order, with journalists also allowed to access some documents.

Families can also talk to a journalist about their case, without risking punishment for contempt of court.

However, judges can still decide that some cases may not be reported on or that reporting should be postponed in certain circumstances.

In Baby Elsa’s case, the PA news agency and the BBC applied for the court to vary the terms of the Transparency Order to allow reporting that she has two siblings and other details.

Judge Atkinson ruled on Monday that reporting the information was in the public interest.

She said: “There is a clear public interest in reporting this story.

“The abandonment of a baby in this country is a very, very unusual event and there are years where there are no children abandoned, and because of that it is the story of the abandoning of a child that is of public interest.

“It is, for the same reason, in our current society, of enormous interest and importance that people know that there is a mother and father out there who felt the need to relinquish their children in this way, three times, and that is of considerable interest, it seems to me.

“If I restrict these rights and the reporting of that story, I think that does impact on public consciousness of these sorts of matters. It restricts the openness of justice.”