Law Minister Shanmugam Responds to Trainee Lawyers Who Cheated in the Bar Exam

If you grew up with Asian parents, cheating in examinations is like committing one of the Seven Greatest Sins.

For the older readers, you’d probably be at the receiving end of anything that’s thin and within reach, while your parents radiate fierce disapproval with their scowls, which deserves a wince of sympathy for every lingering traumatic childhood memory brought up.

For those who don’t understand what I’m saying, just consider yourself lucky for not being exposed to more…. Archaic methods of discipline.

Tiger parents, man, they’re something else.

11 Trainee Lawyers Caught Cheating in Bar Exams

Cheating in examinations is already bad enough on its own.

But doing it as a trainee lawyer, during the examination that grants you the practising licence at the end, seems extremely contradictory.

Especially since each lawyer has to swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in the eyes of the court, whenever they take up a case.

Therefore, it makes sense that lawyers—who are acting as representatives of their clients and being the party who understands the ins and outs of law—should be held to a higher standard of conduct.

 Earlier this month, it was reported that 11 trainee lawyers had cheated in their Bar examinations in 2020.

As a result, six of their admissions to the Bar were pushed backwards, after the Attorney-General objected to their applications for admissions.

At first, High Court Judge Choo Han Teck had decided to redact the names of the applicants, in hopes that they won’t face any negative setbacks in the future, and it was done in the spirit of giving second chances.

That decision was made on 18 April.

Nine days later, however, he overturned his decision after receiving an application from the Attorney-General, which was supported by the Law Society.

Justice Choo explained that he initially believed that hiding their names would allow the offenders to go about the process of recovery in a quiet and uneventful matter, but his opinion has since changed, now thinking that they should face the consequences of their actions publicly.

The six are: Ms Monisha Devaraj, Mr Kushal Atul Shah, Mr Sreeraam Ravenderan, Ms Lynn Kuek Yi Ying, Mr Matthew Chow Jun Feng, and Mr Lionel Wong Choong Yoong.

Someday, if their prospective clients ever search for their names, I hope that the news articles won’t be on the first page of their Google search for too long.

It will be a long and arduous road for them to regain their reputation, that’s for sure.

How Were They Found Out?

Five of the examinees, namelys Ms Monisha, Mr Shah, Mr Sreeraam, Mr Chow, and Mr Wong, had shared answers in six papers through WhatsApp.

Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but while WhatsApp boasts end-to-end encryption, they didn’t mean for it to be abused in such a manner.

The aforementioned five admitted to their misdemeanour as soon as the Singapore Institute of Legal Education (Sile), the body which conducts the exam and course leading up to the exam, began its inquiry.

However, Ms Kuek denied cheating.

She was later found guilty of colluding with another candidate and cheating in three papers.

Judge Choo ruled that the five had to retake all six papers, while Ms Kuek has to retake the whole course.

The five had their applications placed in the backburner for six months, while Ms Kuek, who had apologised for her misconduct two days before the admission hearing, had hers adjourned for a full year.

Comments from Law Minister K Shanmugam

Given the amount of attention that the piece of news gathered, it’s unsurprising that the media eventually got around to inquiring the Law Minister for his opinion, during a fund-raising event in Changi hosted by the runners’ club The Thaarumaaru Runners.

Mr Shanmugam responded: “Lawyers are often fiduciaries…” which refers to a relationship that involves trust between the trustee and beneficiary, and that means, “[they] stand in the position of trust vis-à-vis your client.”

He proceeds to list three important characteristics any lawyer should have are honesty, good behaviour and high standard of conduct.

On the opposite end of the acceptable spectrum would be dishonesty.

Besides those statements, Mt Shanmugam remained careful about his comments, especially since the cases were still pending in court.

He also mentioned that these questions will be brought up in the Parliament.

Nevertheless, the Law Minister reiterates the conclusion that Sile, the Attorney-General’s Chambers, and the Law Society has come to, which is that “dishonesty is completely unacceptable”.

If anything, their harsh verdict towards Ms Kuek in particular for lying twice, only serves to make their stance even clearer.

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