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'A culture of cheating?' Judge delays Bar admission for 6 law graduates caught cheating in exams

SINGAPORE — Five law graduates have had their applications to be admitted to the Bar delayed by six months and one other for a year because all six were caught cheating in their Bar exams. 

'A culture of cheating?' Judge delays Bar admission for 6 law graduates caught cheating in exams
  • At a hearing to admit applicants to the Bar last Wednesday, the Attorney-General objected to the admission of six applicants
  • They had cheated in their Bar exams in 2020
  • A High Court judge decided on Monday that five of them will have their admissions to the Bar delayed by six months and one by a year

SINGAPORE — Five law graduates have had their applications for admission to the Bar delayed by six months and one other for a year because all six were caught cheating in their Bar exams. 

In a judgement published on Monday (April 18), High Court judge Choo Han Teck said this was to "prevent a repeat of the wrong, and to do so without breaking young backs in the process".

But Justice Choo, who redacted the names of the six so as not to prejudice their long-term prospects, also warned that future cheats may not get off so lightly. 

The Attorney-General (AG) had objected to admitting the six students to the Singapore Bar at an admission hearing last Wednesday because they had cheated in Part B of their Bar exams in 2020.

Five of the law students had communicated with each other and shared answers in six of the papers through WhatsApp and were made to retake the six papers, the judge said.

When so many applicants cheated in a professional qualifying examination in so many papers, including one for ‘Ethics and professional responsibility’, then something is wrong somewhere.
Justice Choo Han Teck

The remaining student colluded with another examinee and cheated in three of the papers.

Unlike the five students who admitted their conduct as soon as the Singapore Institute of Legal Education (Sile) began its inquiry, she denied any wrongdoing and protested her innocence at first, arguing that her answers were similar to the other examinee because they studied together and shared notes.

The Sile rejected her explanation because her answers in the three papers were not just similar, but contained the same pattern and errors.

Two days before the admission hearing last Wednesday, she eventually filed an affidavit apologising for her conduct. 

As such, she was made to retake the entire Part B course. The other examinee was not subject to any complaint, Justice Choo said, although he did not offer any reason why that may be the case.

The AG felt that the six students lacked honesty and integrity and should not be admitted to the Bar, at least not for now.

This was because the AG felt it was questionable whether they could swear the oath on admission, which requires them to declare that they will “truly and honestly conduct (themselves) in the practice of an advocate and solicitor according to the best of (their) knowledge and ability and according to law”.

‘SOMETHING IS WRONG SOMEWHERE’

Justice Choo wrote in his judgement: “When so many applicants cheated in a professional qualifying examination in so many papers, including one for ‘Ethics and professional responsibility’, then something is wrong somewhere.”

He added: “Dishonesty and lack of probity are not the only vices in question in this matter. When a person resorts to cheating in an examination, it also reveals a lack of diligence, and a propensity to take shortcuts — neither of which are sound professional qualities.”

The judge said many questions are raised by the cases of the six, though he could not answer them all.

"Does the mode of present-day examinations make it more conducive for cheating?" he asked, among other questions.

"In other words, is there a culture of cheating brewing in the earlier stages of an applicant’s education?"

He noted that a lawyer who has acted dishonestly will be disciplined according to the disciplinary process under the Legal Profession Act. 

In more serious cases, the errant lawyer will have to face the Court of Three Judges who will determine the punishment, including suspension or striking the lawyer of the roll of advocates and solicitors.

But in the present case where the misconduct occurs before the applicant is admitted to the Bar, the High Court can choose only to refuse to admit the applicant, Justice Choo said.

Mr Jeyendran Jeyapal, representing the AG, proposed that the five law students postpone their applications for six months and the one student for a year.

The proposal was not intended as a punishment, Mr Jeyendran said, but as time for the applicants to reflect on their errors. The lawyers representing Sile, the Law Society of Singapore as well as the six students themselves agreed to the proposal. 

In coming to his decision, Justice Choo said that judges are always mindful not to set standards that they themselves cannot achieve.

“They are loathe to shut the door on a wrongdoer with no prospects of redemption. But they also have a duty to prevent a repeat of the wrong, and to do so without breaking young backs in the process.”

He noted that most of the applicants were trained in big and renowned firms, including two foreign offshore firms here, and that all except for one are presently working as legal executives.

“I am therefore of the view that Mr Jeyendran’s proposal is fair, and it appears to be the most viable option in the circumstances,” Justice Choo said.

He added that he has removed the names of the applicants in the hopes that they will not be prejudiced in the long run.

“But second chances are for those who seize them. If ever they were to plead for a third, I wish them good luck.”

Justice Choo warned, however, that names may not be redacted in future cases of cheating and that their applications may not just be postponed for months.

“They may be adjourned sine die, that is to say, without date,” he said.

Related topics

lawyers Singapore Bar high court cheating

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