back to article UK minister tries to intervene after Government Digital Service migration mangles Ministry of Justice webpages

The Government Digital Service (GDS) has mounted its assault on the last standalone UK.gov department website – triggering two ministerial interventions to halt the damage amid a public outcry over access to justice. A crackdown by the increasingly rudderless GDS on the Ministry of Justice's website has led to lawyers and …

  1. Chris G Silver badge

    Who needs foreign state actors to sow dissent and social upheaval when your own government departments can do the job so much better in house?

  2. Ben Tasker Silver badge

    Working for GDS

    It must be crap working for GDS - whenever you do some work, people cry foul.

    The underlying idea of gov.uk itself is fundamentally flawed. The idea that you can press a massive disparate range of services into one common template/format really doesn't stack up.

    Discoverability of simple documentation suffers massively too - if I'm trying to find documentation from the taxman, I used to be able to add the domain name to the search to ensure my results came from them (and not, say, related posts from DWP). Now it's all the homogenous mess that is gov.uk.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Working for GDS

      I'd disagree that the fundamental idea of .gov.uk is flawed - for simple citizen' type queries on the lines of 'how do i tax my car?' or 'point me at the latest government statement on x' it works fairly well. It's annoyingness is that it is so completely dumbed down and has the memory of a goldfish. Heaven forbid us mere subjects should be interested in what the government said last year, or want to read some technical document on CO2 emissions and car-tax rates.

      It could so easily have been a standards setting exercise, rather than a centralising exercise. But that wouldn't have a) been sexy, b) involved big contracts or c) kept the plebs in the dark

      1. Ben Tasker Silver badge

        Re: Working for GDS

        > for simple citizen' type queries on the lines of 'how do i tax my car?' or 'point me at the latest government statement on x' it works fairly well

        That's only concerned with publishing information though - having a single point of call does make sense for it.

        The problem is, they've also tried to shoehorn interactive (and often specialised) services into it. Filling our your self-assessment? Good news, it's now in gov.uk. Dealing with your Dart-charge account? gov.uk

        I tried not to dwell on aesthetics in my original post, but part of the problem is that GDS's template comes at the cost of readability for some of these services. The old HMRC forms for self-assessment were outdated (in a technical sense), but were readable. The new service gives me a headache at times.

        One-size-fits-all is almost never a good idea

        1. tip pc Silver badge

          Re: Working for GDS

          The concept of 1 place to see all government information in the same format is noble and good, the implementation is clearly poor.

          It does stop departments expressing their data in innovative ways if it diverges from the GDS templates.

          For some government departments the GDS implementation is a huge improvement for others, as highlighted in this article, is clearly retrograde.

          If GDS let departments get their own way, none of it would have got done. But GDS clearly didn’t take in the requirements or needs of departments as is now seen.

          Hopefully this will get resolved.

          One obvious advantage of a centralised platform that looks uniform is that if a page is from domain gov.uk it has a far higher chance of being legitimate and builds public trust and confidence.

      2. katrinab Silver badge
        Meh

        Re: Working for GDS

        Sure, but you can have the idiot's guide to taxing your car on .gov.uk; which is what most people will need; and links from there to all the detailed intricacies on car tax that taxation experts need to know about. And probably several links, because there is the registration tax that car dealers pay when they sell a new car, the annual tax that drivers pay, and P11D tax on company cars.

    2. beaker_72
      Facepalm

      Re: Working for GDS

      > It must be crap working for GDS - whenever you do some work, people cry foul

      You don't understand the mentality of the people working for these departments. Crying foul doesn't bother them in the slightest, the people crying foul clearly don't understand that GDS know best and that the foul-criers are just demonstrating their ignorance.

      I've worked with these people, the levels of self-delusion are off the charts.

  3. Jonathan Richards 1 Silver badge
    FAIL

    DNS bollixed?

    $ dig justice.gov.uk

    returns an empty ANSWER section, and consequently an http browser doesn't find a server

    $ date

    Thu 25 Feb 09:45:05 GMT 2021

    1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

      Re: DNS bollixed?

      www.justice.gov.uk works.

      Of course, chrome displays that as "justice.gov.uk" because google thinks they own the internet.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Change control?

    User impact analysis?

    Hardly needs a rocket scientist to get this right!

  5. JohnMurray

    If you can't change the law, you hide it.

    Don't confuse what you consider incompetence, with genuine government malice.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Where gov.uk is concerned, assume incompetence. I doubt they're competent enough to be so malicious.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Paranoid? Moi?

    All part of the grand 'repress the masses' and 'anti-intellectual' policies enacted by several Governments of late...

    Why do plebs (especially disadvantaged plebs) need access to Government things anyway? their lawyer should be dealing with the matter.

    What do you mean "they can't afford lawyers"? If they can't afford them, they don't need them; you will be wanting universal health care free at the point of use next!

    Anyway its not as if they can understand what's going on... After all part of "state schools becoming more like private schools" (Gove, 2014) presumably includes the ability for schools/Academies to ask for parental contributions to the running of them, say a reasonable £8k per term per pupil... can't afford it? tough - your, frankly, irresponsibly whelped loin-fruit obviously don't need educating... if you can't afford to bring them up properly you shouldn't have them in the first place.

    In other news, there is a vacancy in room 101, whilst the continuing war with Oceania is going in our favour, we have never been at war with Oceania,

    1. Ben Tasker Silver badge

      Re: Paranoid? Moi?

      > Paranoid? Moi?

      > All part of the grand 'repress the masses' and 'anti-intellectual' policies enacted by several Governments of late...

      If we're talking conspiracies, it's remiss of you not to point out that a certain well known SpAd was quite keen that the government start collecting analytics tracking user's movements across gov.uk.

      Pulling in information on what laws and procedures people are looking at, particularly after a "leak" presumably, might be quite useful in spin-doctor-world.

  7. Howard Sway Silver badge

    Why GDS has turned webpages into PDFs is a mystery

    This calamity is never a mystery : it's because some senior bod decides that they "look nicer" than web pages, especially when printed out. They do of course generally print out much better than web pages, but it's always a clear indication that the senior bod is a moron who doesn't understand that information is meant to be used, rather than admired for the aesthetics of the way it is presented. And that the web is a dynamic medium that allows easy changes of content, rather than having to regenerate a 100 page pdf whenever something changes (or worse, not bothering to update it). They don't even care that dynamically changing content means that they shouldn't print them out anyway, as they'll be referring to out of date info. No it's stupid bedazzlement of the "look how professional and cool my document looks!" variety.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Why GDS has turned webpages into PDFs is a mystery

      The real mystery is that anyone in gov.uk ever decided that their web pages were an aesthetic or functional improvement on anything.

    2. twellys

      Re: Why GDS has turned webpages into PDFs is a mystery

      So: GDS = Crayon Department??

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Why GDS has turned webpages into PDFs is a mystery

        More like large whiteboard and very fine marker department.

        1. Paceman

          Re: Why GDS has turned webpages into PDFs is a mystery

          Don't forget the post-it notes.

  8. trevorde Silver badge

    Crossed swords with GDS

    Worked on an NHS project and ran afoul of GDS. Basically, their attitude is:

    "NO JAVASCRIPT FOR YOU!!"

    We had to jump through hoops to get it to work without js. That our 6 users would all have js enabled seemed to be lost on them.

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Crossed swords with GDS

      No Javascript sounds like an improvement to me. I run NoScript, and avoid turning JS on whenever I can. It's unnecessary in most cases.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Crossed swords with GDS

        I think it's a law of averages thing - sometime they have to get something right.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Crossed swords with GDS

          The problem GDS has isn't specifically to do with javascript or any other technology. It is that their approach is (in common with many other government departments)

          1 - Attend a tech conference (at taxpayers expense)

          2 - Take one thing someone on stage said out of context, and declare it is a blanket rule that must be applied to every project. No exceptions ever. (note that GDS still works on projects, not products)

          3 - Tell everyone how modern you are because you learned the technique at a tech conference

          4 - Tell everyone how agile you are

          5 - Finish the project and walk away before anyone starts using it

          6 - goto 1

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Crossed swords with GDS

            That approach isn't just confined to government departments, I can assure you...

          2. DwarfPants
            Facepalm

            Re: Crossed swords with GDS

            1 - Attend a tech conference

            can be interchanged with

            1 - Read an inflight magazine article

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Crossed swords with GDS

      This is patently false. The service standard ( https://www.gov.uk/service-manual/service-standard ) doesn't mention Javascript at all, and the service manual ( https://www.gov.uk/service-manual/technology/using-progressive-enhancement ) specifically says that you should/can use progressive enhancement. They just stipulate that it should work without javascript enabled.

      Largely this is historical due to screen readers and other accessibility enhancers which have gotten substantially better at dealing with dynamic web pages.

      In your defence it may be that someone decided it was less work to just write it without javascript than to do the work to do it properly.

    3. j-dub

      Re: Crossed swords with GDS

      You missed the point on why they ask for it to work without javascript.. it's not mainly about users turning JS off (although some do) - it's mainly as a failover, so if JS doesn't download or run, there's still a usable page.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Crossed swords with GDS

        If there's a usable page without Javascript then why add any at all? As soon as someone decides to add it, even if they host it themselves, the temptation to just add this little dependency on some external snippet quickly follows. And then another. And one of those snippets drags in a whole lot from more 3rd party domains.

        There's a reason we block Javascript. We don't trust it.

        1. j-dub

          Re: Crossed swords with GDS

          Adding JS to a static page can improve the user experience; async page updates, avoiding full page reloads, client-side validation etc etc. But if it fails, deliver something that works anyway. It shouldn't have to be one or the other. If a user doesn't trust it as you say and wants to block it, that shouldn't break it either.

  9. Eclectic Man Silver badge

    Ignorance of the Law

    I believe I am right in claiming that there is a principle that 'ignorance of the law is no defence', but if the new gov.uk web site is impossible to navigate due to the government's own employees, surely that would count? (There is an innate contradiction in every country's legal system, in that everyone is supposed to know all of the law and comply, but that you are almost certain to need a lawyer and a judge who specialises in that particular branch of law in order to get a 'fair' trial.)

    I have used the money claims process to threaten to sue people in the past for failure to provide adequate services (and even went to court for one long running dispute). If this 're-organisation' makes things less available to members of the public with a genuine need of legal remedy, whose court fees would be about £100, but whose legal fees would be over £1000 if they needed a solicitor this will put justice beyond the reach of a lot of people.

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: Ignorance of the Law

      You could be done for breaking the law in an era where sailing ships and no digital communications meant that people genuinely and provably had no idea a law had been changed, and that they were now breaking the law. That didn't stop them being prosecuted; so i'd suggest that a crap website wouldn't either.

  10. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    There must be a good chance of someone raising this as an issue in court as to why something hasn't been done properly. At that point I'd hope to see someone senior in GDS summoned before the court to explain themselves - with the possibility of a contempt charge hanging over them.

  11. Potemkine! Silver badge

    one-size-must-fit-all

    Known as "the beancounters strategy". Never works IRL but still pushed over again and again.

  12. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Trollface

    I wonder if they've hired some IBM people ?

    Links that point to vastly different addresses, useful information hard to find and, when you finally find it, difficult to understand, yep, they must have hired an IBM consultant.

  13. herman Silver badge
    Flame

    W0t? No Flash?

    I fully expected that the whole new modern standardized redesigned web service would be Flash based.

  14. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Joke

    TITSUP

    Total Inability To Serve Usual Pages

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: TITSUP

      Total Inability To Serve Useful Pages

  15. lone.gunman

    The Simple Stuff Should Be Obvious!

    Well, here we are again..... big department big money & they throw a spanner... And no one talks to each other!

    Just rolling the clock back, admittedly a long'ish way, I thought the GOV.UK domain was supposed to be all about being a 'gateway', for which read (to me anyway) you go through that gate to get what you want, in web speak would that be go to GOV.UK & it points you to what you want, which may well be on another domain. May be a simplistic view, but that's what it's supposed to be.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The Simple Stuff Should Be Obvious!

      Ah, but if the gateway links to another domain - then that's taken the user away from the control of GDS. Can't have the user actually using something GDS hasn't borked can we ?

  16. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Joke

    Expert Required to be

    Someone with prior knowledge of GDS, with excellent website design skills.

    Step forward...

    Baroness Lane Fox!

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