Singapore: Six trainee lawyers who cheated in Bar exams have their admission to legal profession delayed

CNA reports

Six trainee lawyers have had their admission to the legal profession delayed after cheating in the qualifying Bar exams in 2020, including in a paper on ethics and professional responsibility.

In a grounds of decision issued on Monday (Apr 18), Justice Choo Han Teck said he is not naming the six “in the hope that they will not be prejudiced in the long run”.

“In a profession in which every member must be like Caesar’s wife – beyond reproach – dishonesty is a big problem. But it would also be harsh to have one’s professional career ended before it has even begun,” said the judge.

The six were among 26 trainee lawyers whose applications for admission to the Bar were heard by Justice Choo last Wednesday.

To practise law in Singapore, law graduates must be admitted to the Bar by passing a set of exams known as Part B. Law graduates from approved overseas universities must also take another conversion examination known as Part A.

The Attorney-General, Singapore Institute of Legal Education (SILE) and Law Society of Singapore must not object to the application in order for the lawyer to be admitted.

During last week’s hearing, the Attorney-General objected to the applications of the six trainee lawyers, taking the view that they lacked honesty and integrity as they had cheated in the Part B exams.

Five of them shared answers for six of the papers through WhatsApp, while the last one colluded with another candidate to cheat in three of the papers.

The last one had sought to explain that “her answers were the same as the other person because they studied together and shared study notes”, said Justice Choo.

However, this explanation was rejected by SILE as her answers were not just similar but contained the same “pattern and errors”, said the judge. The fellow candidate she colluded with did not face any complaint.

The five were required to retake the six papers they had cheated in, while the last one was required to retake the entire Part B course.

This was because unlike the five, who admitted their conduct as soon as the inquiry started, she had denied her wrongdoing and protested her innocence, said Justice Choo.

All six have since passed the required exams.

Justice Choo granted a six-month adjournment for the Bar applications of the five trainee lawyers, and a year’s adjournment for the application of the last one.

This followed a proposal from the counsel for the Attorney-General, who had argued that a little more time for the trainee lawyers to reflect on the error of their ways would be beneficial to them.

Justice Choo noted that most of the six had trained in big and renowned law firms, including two foreign offshore firms in Singapore, and that all but one were now working as legal executives.

He said the judges had a duty to prevent a repeat of wrongdoing “without breaking young backs in the process”.

He added that the revelations of cheating raised questions including whether there was “a culture of cheating brewing in the earlier stages of an applicant’s education”.

“This profession values honesty among the highest virtues, and it is best to avoid stumbling on account of a lack of it from the outset,” said Justice Choo.

“That is to say, even lawyers in the embryonic stage – law students – must be trustworthy.”