UPDATE – The Bar Council has extended the pupillage gateway deadline to 11am on MONDAY 11 FEBRUARY.
Thank you to the Chair of the Bar Council (Richard Atkins QC) for taking swift action to resolve this issue. Thank you also to the staff of the Bar Council who were working late to rectify the problems with the gateway. Thank you to Richard Gibbs and Gerard McDermott QC who raised this matter with Richard Atkins QC. Thank you also to our signatories and to the many barristers and students on twitter who helped publicise this matter.
We look forward to working with the Bar Council to ensure that the Gateway portal is reformed.
URGENT – BY EMAIL ONLY
FAO Policy Lead – Pupillage Gateway
The General Council of the Bar
289-293 High Holborn
07 February 2018
Dear Sir or Madam,
Pupillage Gateway Outage
We, the undersigned, write to express concern in relation to the technical difficulties very recently experienced by applicant users of the Bar Council ‘Pupillage Gateway’ system, and to invite the Bar Council to extend by 48 hours the submission deadline for applicants (“the deadline”).
We understand that representatives of the City Law School have also been in touch about this issue.
The technical difficulties
The Pupillage Gateway is the online system through which all providers of pupillage must advertise vacancies, and the sole means by which many chambers and ATOs accept applications for pupillage vacancies.
In the current application cycle, the gateway ‘opened’ for applications to be started, edited, and submitted, at 11:00am on 7 January 2019. The intended deadline for submission of applications through the gateway was advertised as 11:00am on 7 February 2019.
Late on 6 February 2019 we became aware via Twitter and other social media that many applicant users were experiencing great difficulty using the gateway, such that they were unable to access the website, or were unable to effectively edit or submit their applications. We attach as Appendix 1, a document containing various messages we received from applicants.
During the morning of 7 February, we sought to engage with the Bar Council via telephone and via twitter, to seek further information on the nature and extent of these difficulties, and the extent (if any) to which the Bar Council were aware of them. The response we received via Twitter was a source of great concern, with the @TheBarCouncil account sending tweets indicating that the system was considered “functional”, but acknowledging that users were experiencing “slowing response times”. A further tweet was sent relaying information from the product supplier asserting that “the system did not crash at any point”, but that it was “placing people in a queue to enter the site”. We submit in light of the evidence in Appendix 1 that this assertion is at odds with the experience of a number of applicants; we submit that the evidence indicates that there was a significant period within the last 24 hours during which the gateway was de facto inoperative.
The effect of this outage was that applicants who were submitting applications during this time were placed at a significant disadvantage.
A short while later, with no explicit acknowledgement that there had been an outage, @TheBarCouncil tweeted that the deadline would be extended to 1:30pm on 7 February. We submit that this is inconsistent with the earlier assertions that all was well.
The prejudice to applicants
We submit that the prejudice to applicants in these circumstances is clear. That this outage was caused by “unprecedented” numbers of applicants using the system is powerful evidence that those submitting applications at this time were far from outliers but rather were a significant proportion of applicants. We welcome the decision eventually taken by the Bar Council to extend the gateway deadline to 1:30pm on 7 February, however we submit that this extension does not sufficiently remedy the prejudice suffered by applicants. We submit that a group of applicants who are placed at the most significant risk of prejudice by this outage are those who have work, study, or caring responsibilities to attend to during ‘normal working hours’. It therefore follows that a last-minute extension of the deadline to a time further in to the working day is of little to no assistance to those candidates who were likely to be caused the greatest prejudice by this outage.
It might be thought that those who are applying for pupillage with the types of responsibilities outlined above are more likely to be members of groups currently under-represented at the Bar, and who the Bar Council has a statutory duty not to discriminate against. Those from less wealthy backgrounds are, we submit, far less likely to have the opportunity to take protected time off to complete applications of this sort. Further, and in any event we submit that applicants ought, as a matter of natural justice, be able to take advantage of the full time period available to them before the deadline. This has been impossible.
We submit that the only proper and reasonable way to remedy this prejudice is to allow an extension to the submission deadline of 48 hours, to 11am on 10 February. This will allow candidates the time to deal with the knock-on effect of this system outage, and will place them in the position they would have been in had this outage not occurred. We submit that an extension of significantly less than this deprives applicants of the opportunity to recover from the effects of the outage, and to submit applications properly.
Finally, we submit that proper notice must be given to this and any further changes to the deadline. We suggest that the only proper way to ensure that notice is given is to email directly any applicant user who has applications open informing them of the change. Without proper notice, we submit that the impact of any remedy is rendered illusory.
Notwithstanding the response to the earlier parts of this letter, we invite the Bar Council to carry out a full investigation into the reasons behind this outage and to publish such findings as may be made. We note that this is far from the first time that such difficulties have arisen.
Beheshteh Engineer, Pupil Barrister, Co-Editor of pupillageandhowtogetit.com
Robert Levack, Pupil Barrister, Contributor to pupillageandhowtogetit.com
Bernard Richmond QC, Lamb Building
Keri Tayler, 42 Bedford Row
Felicity McMahon, 5RB
Tom Hickman, Blackstone Chambers
Dr Hannah Quirk, Reader in Criminal Law, Kings College London
Louise Glover, Departmental Employability Lead for University of Sheffield Law School
Snigdha Nag, Senior Lecturer, Barrister, Fellow of the HEA, City Law School
Ffyon Reilly, Pupillage Advice Service, City Law School
City Law School
Young Legal Aid Lawyers
Rebecca Major, Middle Temple
Middle Temple Young Barristers’ Association
The following are quotes from applicants (sent to us privately, names have been redacted but forwarded with their permission):
- “I submitted one, the site then froze, left it for 20 mins. Returned, still unable to access. Finally got in after deadline showing all now out of time… not best chuffed…. I was only able to submit one application, with another 9 ready to go that I couldn’t submit.”
- One applicant commented that two of their peers have noticed that the changes they made to applications last night/ this morning have reverted back to old versions. They commented that everyone should go back and check what had been uploaded.
- “Tried to submit last night. The content wouldn’t show up on the declaration page [last page] So I had to delete it, go back, re-copy the answers and then re-save them so they would display properly. I had to do this several times.”
- “I have had problems since last night and into early hours – word count being over, errors in pages, pages expiring etc. I tried again this morning 8:30 to be greeted with the same message and contacted both tech support and bar council with this. At 10:52 the bar council have tweeted that “speed is normal now” please see 3 x pictures showing 10:55 error message and 10:57 after re copying and pasting my answers. [pictures not included here] I then tried again and was greeted with the applications closed message. I have contacted bar council again who have advised that the deadline is now closed and no decision is made about extending. I have explained their inaccessible website has brought the deadline forward without notice but unfortunately the lady could not help me.”
- Another student said that even though she had already submitted her applications, the fact of submission was not showing up online.
- “…that business with loading times last night was awful – 15 mins per page. I know many in the same boat as me who just stayed up all night waiting page by page to submit (and my applications were done in good time mostly!). A lot of people haven’t gone to uni or work today as they are exhausted. Anyone working is at a disadvantage particularly which could has access implications.”
- Other students sent us a variation of this message, simply: “The system kept crashing. Many of my friends had issues as well.”
The following are tweets sent to @pupillagehub:
As a Chambers, Staple Inn does not use the portal so will not lose applicants because of it. It is apparent that, in its current form, it is not fit for purpose. Please modernise the system.