Cheating in examinations has long been branded the highest order of wrongdoing in school and we have all grown up knowing that.
So it’s all the more shocking to find out that young adults would resort to such measures, especially when they are training to be lawyers.
Shared Answers Through Whatsapp
Six trainee lawyers were discovered to have cheated in the Bar exam in 2020, including ironically a paper on ethics and professional responsibility.
Five, who had shared answers in six papers through WhatsApp, had to retake the papers after they were found out.
The remaining one, who colluded with another person taking the exam and cheated in three of the papers, had to retake the entire preparatory course for what is known as Part B of the Bar exam.
The six had mostly trained in big and renowned firms and five of them are currently working as legal executives.
Process of Becoming a Lawyer
After going through a six-month course, law graduates are required to take the Bar exam, also known as Part B.
They have to then complete a six-month training contract with a law firm. Following this, they can qualify to be called to the Bar, which means they can practise as lawyers.
Graduates from approved foreign universities also have to take another exam known as Part A.
Applications have to be accepted by the Attorney-General (AG), the Singapore Institute of Legal Education (SILE) and the Law Society.
Last Wednesday (13 Apr), 26 applicants to the Bar, including the six, had their Bar admissions hearings before Justice Choo.
However, the AG objected to the six applications because they had cheated in the Bar exam.
The six applicants have all since retaken the required exams, but their applications to be called to the Bar have been postponed — six months for five and a year for the other.
On Monday, the judge issued the grounds of decision to explain why he had agreed to a proposal by the AG for the applications to be adjourned.
Justice Choo said the AG viewed the applicants as lacking honesty and integrity, hence they should not be admitted to the Bar, at least not for a while.
The AG also found it to be questionable whether the six applicants could swear the oath of admission which requires them to “truly and honestly conduct (themselves) in the practice of an advocate and solicitor according to the best of knowledge and ability and according to law”.
One Had Denied Cheating
The one trainee lawyer who was required to retake the entire course had initially denied any wrongdoing, unlike the five who admitted what they had done as soon as the institute began its inquiry.
It was only on 11 April, two days before the admission hearing, that she filed an affidavit apologising for her conduct.
She explained that her answers were the same as the other person because they studied together and shared study notes. Oh, we have heard this one before.
The SILE, which conducts the exam and the preparatory course leading to the exam, rejected her explanation because her answers in the three papers were not just similar, but contained the same pattern and errors.
“They were not just similar but the same – warts and all. The SILE, however, gave her the benefit of the doubt in three other papers,” said Justice Choo.
She was required to retake the entire Part B course, which comprises seven compulsory subjects, such as civil litigation practice, criminal litigation practice, family law practice and ethics and professional responsibility.
Culture of Cheating
The incident has raised the question on whether there is a culture of cheating, according to Justice Choo.
“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 said.
He added that the nature of the law course is meant to “instil ethics and professional conduct” so when the students cheat, it raises the questions as to how they had “learnt so poorly”.
Adjournment is to “Reflect on Error”
Justice Choo noted that a lawyer who has acted dishonestly will be disciplined according to the process under the Legal Profession Act.
However, there is no disciplinary process for a qualifying applicant to the Bar, except that the court hearing the application may refuse to admit the applicant.
Mr Jeyendran Jeyapal, representing the AG, had proposed the adjournment of the six’s applications – not as a punishment, but for the six to “reflect on the error of their ways”.
Justice Choo said, “(Judges) loath 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.”
As such, Mr Jeyendran’s proposal was fair and appeared to be the most viable option in the circumstances.
Second Chance Given
Additionally, in the spirit of “second chances”, the judge said he was redacting the names of the applicants in the hope that they will not be prejudiced in the long run.
He directed that the court file be sealed, which means third parties cannot get documents filed in respect of the admissions.
Justice Choo warned that future cases may not be redacted, and the applications may be adjourned indefinitely.
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