Bar exam cheats named: Legal fraternity say culprits must take responsibility for actions but deserve second chance
SINGAPORE — Seniors lawyers generally agreed that the trainee lawyers found to have cheated during their Bar examination must take responsibility for their actions.
- Some senior lawyers said that six trainee lawyers who were caught cheating in their Bar exam must take responsibility for their actions
- However, not all agreed that they should be named
- One lawyer said naming them is disproportionate to their wrongdoing
- Others disagreed and said what they did affects the standing of the profession
SINGAPORE — Senior lawyers generally agreed that the trainee lawyers found to have cheated during their Bar examination must take responsibility for their actions.
They were speaking to TODAY after a High Court’s decision to name six trainee lawyers who did so.
Most of the senior lawyers agreed with each other that the judge’s decision to name the trainees was in line with having a transparent judicial system, although one felt that it was disproportionate to the offence they committed.
On Wednesday (April 27), Justice Choo Han Teck announced that he was reversing his initial decision to not make public the six law graduates' names in his judgement on April 18.
Among the reasons he gave on Wednesday was that it would be better for the six "to face the publicity than to hide from it”.
The six law graduates are:
- Monisha Devaraj
- Kushal Atul Shah
- Sreeraam Ravenderan
- Lynn Kuek Yi Ting
- Matthew Chow Jun Feng
- Lionel Wong Choong Yoong
They were found to have cheated during Part B of the 2020 Bar exam, which was conducted remotely.
Five of the law graduates’ applications for admission to the Bar were delayed by six months, while the sixth graduate's application was delayed for a year.
Mr Walter Silvester, managing director of law firm Silvester Legal LLC, said that he does not condone cheating, but he felt that having the six named was “out of proportion”.
He reasoned that the trainees were not public figures and the only people who would be interested in knowing who they are would be prospective employers.
“So the fact that the case has become so high-profile… and the lifting of the gag order has resulted in the whole country knowing their identity, I think that is quite harsh.”
Rather than naming the six publicly, Mr Silvester felt that a direction could have been made by the judge to have their applications to law firms supervised by the Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc) and to have the trainees declare that they were one of the six.
Given the severity of their mistakes, the six could have received a heftier punishment, for example, by having their admission to the Bar delayed longer to between one and two years.
Now that they have been named publicly, though, it will mean that what they did will forever remain in the public domain, Mr Silvester added.
“They are young people, and everyone has made mistakes.”
Most of the lawyers approached by TODAY, however, did not share Mr Silvester’s sentiment.
Ms Stefanie Yuen Thio said that people may not know that the hearing on whether the law graduates should be admitted to the Bar has not yet taken place, and “given the amount of public umbrage that’s been expressed”, a continued non-disclosure of the trainees’ identities would just “add fuel to an increasing fire”.
The joint managing partner of TSMP Law Corporation added that it is “good for trust in the judicial system to have more transparency”.
“Let’s let justice take its course and hear all the parties out when the adjourned hearing finally goes ahead.Ms Stefanie Yuen Thio, joint managing partner of TSMP Law Corporation”
Agreeing, Mr Bryan Tan, a partner with law firm Reed Smith, said that not naming the trainees would give the impression that the Bar is “protecting people who fell short of expectations”.
Beyond that, it could lead to members of the public taking the view that other members of the Bar are similarly not to be trusted.
“If the public has that impression, and it affects the standing of the profession, then certainly, the people who have done (wrong) will have to take their medicine and their futures will get affected invariably,” Mr Tan added.
That said, Ms Yuen Thio said that the disclosure of the trainees’ names should not encourage people to form a lynch mob, whether against the lawyers themselves or the firms where they worked as trainee solicitors.
“Let’s let justice take its course and hear all the parties out when the adjourned hearing finally goes ahead,” she said.
Mr Josephus Tan of Invictus Law said that “everybody deserves a second chance” and it is possible for the trainees to make amends.
Citing himself as an example, he said that he was a delinquent who managed to turn his life around, while his firm’s director and head of civil practice, Mr Darren Tan, was a former convict.
“If I ever meet them, I will say, ‘Look, the road to recovery and self-discovery starts with accepting (being named) and embracing your failings, which cannot be changed. It’s not just about being called to the Bar but the ability to look at people in the eyes and continue living a dignified life. The only way to confront it now is head on’,” said Mr Josephus Tan.
WHAT LAWSOC SAYS
In delivering his judgement on Wednesday, Justice Choo said that LawSoc now has a new responsibility of helping the six law graduates and he was sure that many LawSoc members are also “ready to lend a hand”.
“The six applicants who aspire to be called as advocates and solicitors have to satisfy the Law Society that they are fit and proper persons.A statement by the Law Society of Singapore on the trainee lawyers who cheated in Bar examination”
When approached for comments on whether it intends to help the six, and how, LawSoc did not answer TODAY’s questions directly.
Instead, it said that it had made submissions at Wednesday’s hearing in support of revoking the orders to not disclose the names of the six trainees. The latest decision has served to “quash speculations” on their identities.
LawSoc added that it “did not consent” to the law graduates’ admission to the Bar, given their past conduct.
“The six applicants who aspire to be called as advocates and solicitors have to satisfy the Law Society that they are fit and proper persons.”
Applicants who wish to be called to the Bar must make a strong case for themselves that they are suitable individuals to be officers of the Court, LawSoc added.
“Each of these applicants may have different circumstances, and they should each take appropriate advice from a lawyer as to if and how they can present a convincing case for admission."
WHAT LAW FIRMS WHO WORKED WITH TRAINEES SAY
Little is known of the six trainees. On the internet, they have not left much digital footprint.
However, TODAY understands that Mr Sreeraam worked at the LVM Law Chambers, Mr Chow at Dentons Rodyk & Davidson, Mr Shah at Harry Elias Partnership and Ms Devaraj at K&L Gates Straits Law LLC.
Dentons Rodyk told TODAY that it “expects the highest standard of probity from all our employees” and added that Mr Chow is no longer employed by them.
LVM Law Chambers confirmed that Mr Sreeram did his practice training at the firm and that he was “hardworking, well-liked and showed promise” as a trainee.
The firm said that it fully agrees with the court’s emphasis on the professional values of honesty and probity.
At the same time, it also supports the court’s call for the trainees to be given a second chance and it will be “exploring all avenues to help”.
Mr Philip Fong, managing partner at Harry Elias, confirmed that Mr Shah was a legal executive at his firm for about three months.
The firm’s partners do not condone Mr Shah’s conduct at the 2020 Bar examinations due to his lapse of judgement.
Nevertheless, Mr Fong said that the partners “will echo and apply the call for grace and mercy in the spirit of second chances as eloquently stated by the Honourable Justice Choo Han Teck”.
Mr Shah’s future with the firm will depend on whether he is called to the Bar, his work attitude and the integrity and professionalism he brings to his work, Mr Fong added.
Mr Sreenivasan Narayanan, managing partner at K&L Gates Straits Law LLC, said that Ms Devaraj completed her training contract in the middle of last year. She left the firm to re-sit her Part B exam and sought employment elsewhere after that.
“I really cannot put it any better than the learned judge (Justice Choo), in particular, his statement that ‘sometimes, redemption cannot be claimed behind the mask of anonymity, but by baring one's face and looking everyone in the eye, to see which kind of persons one confronts'.”
Justice Choo also said in his judgement that sometimes one might see an unforgiving face, but more often than not, it will be a face that says, “Get up and try again; you can get it right”.
Facing them in this way, the judge added, helps one develop the character of fortitude that the path forward requires.
Mr Sreenivasan said: “We wish Ms Devaraj the best and that she develops the fortitude she needs in a time that is difficult for her.”