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Redacting names of Bar exam cheats would cast cloud over other candidates, go against principle of open justice: AGC

SINGAPORE — After Justice Choo Han Teck redacted the names of six trainee lawyers who had cheated during the Bar exams in his written judgement on April 18, the Attorney-General (AG) filed a request to reveal them.

Redacting names of Bar exam cheats would cast cloud over other candidates, go against principle of open justice: AGC

A view of the Supreme Court along Hight Street in Singapore.

SINGAPORE — After Justice Choo Han Teck redacted the names of six trainee lawyers who had cheated during the Bar exams in his written judgement on April 18, the Attorney-General (AG) filed a request to reveal them.

This was because the AG had a serious concern that the non-disclosure of the names of the six applicants would "cast a cloud" over the entire batch of candidates in Part B of the Singapore Bar Examinations 2020, the vast majority of whom had passed the examinations honestly, "as the public may speculate as to who the said applicants were".

A spokesperson from the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) said in a statement on Thursday (April 28), in response to queries from TODAY, that the AG was also of the view that the principle of open justice is a key principle in open court proceedings.

"Redaction and sealing orders are derogations from this general principle, and must be justified by strong reasons."

Justice Choo had initially removed their names in his written judgement, saying then that this was in order not to prejudice their long-term prospects.

But on Wednesday, he reversed this decision, saying it is better for them "to face the publicity than to hide from it”. 

At Wednesday's hearing, in agreeing with the AG' arguments, Justice Choo also granted the AG's application to rescind the judge's earlier order to seal the six applicants’ court files.

The AGC spokesperson added that in this case, the circumstances of the six applicants did not fall within any statutory or common-law exceptions. There were strong reasons for upholding this principle of open justice.

Details of those involved in court proceedings can be kept from public knowledge in certain circumstances, such as to protect the identities of witnesses or victims. More often, they include vulnerable persons such as minors and victims of sexual assault cases.

The AG said that an admission hearing — when a person applies to be admitted to the Bar and the application is heard in court — is a public acknowledgement by the High Court that a qualified person is a fit and proper person to be called to the Bar and to serve the public.

“Hence, the public has a right to know who he or she is and why the High Court considers him or her to be a fit and proper person to be called to the Bar." 

In a first, the AG objected to admitting the six students to the Singapore Bar at an admission hearing.

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

Following this, the AGC announced that five more trainee lawyers were caught cheating during the exams that year. They have not been named.

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AGC Attorney-General lawyers cheating Bar exam

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