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Some Bar exam candidates speak of lax rules as 5 more trainee lawyers found to have cheated

SINGAPORE — Lawyers who took the Bar examinations in 2020 said that the lax rules made it easy for candidates to cheat, as the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) said on Tuesday (April 19) that five more trainees lawyers had been caught cheating during the exams that year.

Some Bar exam candidates speak of lax rules as 5 more trainee lawyers found to have cheated
In 2020, candidates took the Part B Bar examination sat for it at home due to Covid-19 and some of them said there was no requirement to turn on their web cameras to show that they were not communicating with others.
  • AGC said that five more trainee lawyers had been caught cheating during their Bar exams in 2020
  • This brings the number who have cheated to 11
  • Some lawyers who took the same exam that year said that lax rules made it easy for candidates to cheat
  • One lawyer said that it was "not unheard of" for people to ask their friends for help during the exams
  • The Singapore Institute of Legal Education has since tightened its rules around the Part B exams, a law trainee said

SINGAPORE — Lawyers who took the Bar examinations in 2020 said that the lax rules made it easy for candidates to cheat, as the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) said on Tuesday (April 19) that five more trainees lawyers had been caught cheating during the exams that year.

This came a day after a High Court judgement revealed that six trainee lawyers had their court hearings for admissions to the Bar delayed by six months to a year because they had cheated during the Bar exams, bringing the number who had cheated up to 11.

The postponement of the court hearings, however, does not mean that they will be automatically admitted to the Bar afterwards.

AGC said that after the adjournment, those who had cheated will have to file an affidavit showing why he or she is a “fit and proper person” to be admitted to the Bar — meaning they can practise as lawyers — as of the date of that affidavit.

“The Attorney-General (AG) takes the view that, in all cases where applicants had cheated on the Bar examinations, such applicants would not be fit and proper persons to be admitted as advocates and solicitors of the Supreme Court of Singapore at this point in time," AGC said.

This is because their misconduct showed that they "did not embody the key qualities of honesty and integrity that every lawyer must possess".

AGC added that last Wednesday's admissions hearing was the first time the AG had objected to an applicant being called to the Bar.

The AG is considering the applications of the five other trainees who cheated in the 2020 Part B examinations.

LAX RULES

Two lawyers who took the Part B exams in late-2020 — both requested anonymity — told TODAY that although the Covid-19 pandemic forced the exams to be held virtually, there were few rules in place that prevented examinees from cheating. 

Throughout the eight days of tests, candidates sat for the exam from home. 

They would be given a password-protected document containing the exam questions and were told to type their answers on a word document and submit it online within a set time, they said.

There was no requirement to turn on their web cameras to show that they were not communicating with others and they did not have to download any examination software such as those that locked their computers from accessing messaging applications, they added.

One of the two, a 26-year-old who now practises law in an international firm, said: “It was frankly not unheard of for people to text their friends here and there for questions they didn’t know how to fully handle.

“I didn't hear of anyone asking for answers to entire papers, but for smaller questions here and there, yes.”

The other lawyer, 36, said that the lax rules meant that candidates could, in theory, even take the exam in the same room without the examiners finding out.

Like previous Part B exams, the one held in 2020 was an open-book exam, meaning that candidates were allowed to refer to notes and other materials. 

Beyond putting their career at risk, the lawyer said that he did not think it was a very smart idea to cheat given how little time they had to complete each paper.

“Every second you take to communicate with people, you are better off trying to formulate your own answer,” he said. 

Since then, the Singapore Institute of Legal Education, the organisation that administers the Bar exams, gradually began rolling out stricter rules.

The 26-year-old lawyer said that when she had to retake one paper in March last year, she was made to install a software that locked the computer’s access to communications apps and internet access during the test.

“They tried to rectify it slightly,” she said. “But still, no webcam.”

By late last year, however, the Singapore Institute of Legal Education had implemented a series of measures to curb cheating during the exams, which were still being held virtually.

A 24-year-old trainee lawyer who took the Part B exam in December last year said that she had to use her webcam to take a 360-degree view of her room via the exam software. She also requested anonymity.

Using the webcam, she also had to show what was on her table, under her table, the notes she had with her, as well as show herself switching off her phone and placing it in a clear container.

Although the software cuts off access to the internet once the exam starts, she believed that the software would continue taking a video of candidates throughout the paper to ensure that they were not cheating.

RESPONSE BY SINGAPORE INSTITUTE OF LEGAL EDUCATION

In response to TODAY's queries, the Singapore Institute of Legal Education said on Wednesday that it takes a serious view of the cheating cases.

It said that the 2020 Part B exams were conducted remotely "during a challenging time when holding exams physically was not a viable option".

"The institute had adequate safeguards in place to ensure the integrity of the remote examination process," it said, without elaborating.

"Unfortunately, there were a number of cases where candidates were found to have cheated. The institute has taken disciplinary action against them in accordance with its rules."

It noted that remote examination technology has "evolved swiftly" and now includes mechanisms such as remote proctoring to "forestall breaches" and computer-assisted checks for plagiarism and collusion.

"The institute will adapt and adopt technology improvements in line with practices of similar organisations as and when they become available," it said, adding that it will take a holistic approach in reviewing and managing the risks and challenges involved. 

TODAY has asked the institute to elaborate on the safeguards it had put in place, whether any of these measures helped the institute detect the cheating, what specific disciplinary action was taken against the candidates caught cheating and if this was the first time such cheating had been detected in a Bar exam.    

'MERE SLAP ON THE WRIST'

Five of the law graduates who shared answers through WhatsApp had their admissions hearing postponed by six months. One of them, who denied any wrongdoing and protested her innocence at first, had hers adjourned by a year.

They have all since retaken and passed the required exams but will have to wait until the adjournment is over before their applications are heard again. 

They will be called to the Bar only when their applications are accepted by the AG, the Singapore Institute of Legal Education and The Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc), and after filing an affidavit proving that they are fit to be a practising lawyer.

In response to TODAY’s queries, LawSoc said that it does not have the authority to penalise trainees, because they fall outside the scope of its statutory powers.

Besides the 26-year-old lawyer, those who spoke to TODAY said that they have not heard of any trainees who have cheated in their Bar exams until the latest incidents were revealed this week.

The 36-year-old lawyer said: “A good number of us lawyers feel that the adjournment of their Bar admissions hearing is a mere slap on the wrist.

"To some extent, it tarnishes the reputation of the rest of the legal fraternity who passed the exams fairly.”

Related topics

lawyers cheating exam Bar exam AGC LawSoc court

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