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Singapore’s Law Minister K. Shanmugam speaks to Reuters in Singapore July 31, 2019. — Reuters pic
Singapore’s Law Minister K. Shanmugam speaks to Reuters in Singapore July 31, 2019. — Reuters pic

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SINGAPORE, May 9 — Administrators of the Singapore Bar examinations have not found any other cases of cheating apart from those 11 trainee lawyers already uncovered, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said in Parliament today.

He also said that most people would regard banning the Bar exam cheats from ever practising law as “too harsh”, but would agree that they should face “significant sanction that brings across the seriousness of the conduct”.

However, Shanmugam avoided further comment on the matter, adding that the appropriate punishment for them can only be decided by the courts.

Shanmugam was responding in Parliament to questions filed by four Members of Parliament (MPs) on the recent news that 11 trainee lawyers had been found to have cheated in the 2020 Bar exams.

Shanmugam said that the Singapore Institute of Legal Education (Sile), which conducts the Bar exams, had not found any other cases of cheating.

“There is a difference between whether it has happened, and what they have found, but they haven’t found anything else,” he added.

Seah Kian Peng, MP for Marine Parade Group Representation Constituency (GRC), noted that a High Court judge has revealed the names of six of the trainees who had cheated, reversing a previous decision to have their names redacted.

He asked: “Given that the names of these candidates are now revealed, what can we say about giving them a second chance?”

In response, Shanmugam laid out how he thought the case should be approached.

Cheating, especially when done by trainee lawyers, is a “doubly serious” offence, he said.

“The message has got to go out to others that all of this will be dealt with very seriously,” he said.

The case of trainee lawyers found to have cheated in the Bar exams was first announced in an April 18 High Court judgement which stated that six trainee lawyers have had their court hearings for admissions to the Bar delayed by six months in five cases, and one year in the other case.

The Attorney General’s Chambers later stated that another five cases of cheating had been found among trainee lawyers taking the 2020 Bar exams. Their names have not been disclosed.

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

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.

At that hearing, the High Court will then rule whether the applicant should be admitted to the Bar after taking into account the views of the Attorney General, Sile and the Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc).

Hany Soh, MP for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, suggested today to have these 11 Bar exam cheats be called to the Bar on condition that they be supervised by supervising solicitors or a representative from LawSoc.

Soh, who is also a lawyer and the director of MSC Law Corporation, further proposed that these 11 trainee lawyers volunteer for cases through the Legal Aid Bureau or the criminal legal aid schemes.

In response, Shanmugam said: “I think the points made are interesting. As to whether they need close supervision, I think at the age of 23 or 25, I don’t think you need to have close supervision to know that you ought not to be cheating in an exam.”

While there may be some merit to requiring them to perform some service to the community, Shanmugam said that these are not for the Government to decide, unless the Government decides to pass new laws on such matters.

These specific cases, however, are matters for the Attorney General’s Chambers and LawSoc to make suggestions and for the courts to decide, he said. — TODAY

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