Redacting names of 6 trainee lawyers would cast cloud over Bar exam candidates, need to uphold principle of open justice: AGC
SINGAPORE: Strong reasons for upholding the principle of open justice were behind the Attorney-General's application to name the six trainee lawyers who cheated in the 2020 Bar examinations, a spokesperson for the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) said on Thursday (Apr 28).
The Attorney-General was concerned that redacting the names would "cast a cloud over the entire batch of candidates", the majority of whom had passed the exams honestly, as the public may speculate who the six applicants were, the spokesperson added.
The six trainee lawyers are: Kushal Atul Shah, Sreeraam Ravenderan, Matthew Chow Jun Feng, Monisha Devaraj, Lionel Wong Choong Yoong and Lynn Kuek Yi Ting.
High Court judge Choo Han Teck had rescinded his orders to redact the names and seal the court files of the six trainee lawyers on Wednesday, after agreeing with an application filed by the Attorney-General on Apr 21.
Justice Choo, who presided over the six trainee lawyers' hearing to be admitted to the Bar, last week initially redacted their names "in the hope that they will not be prejudiced in the long run".
He reversed this decision on Wednesday, citing "tremendous public interest" in the matter and saying: "I am now of the view that it is better to face the publicity than to hide from it."
An AGC spokesperson told CNA that an admission hearing 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.
"The Attorney-General had a serious concern that redacting 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," said the spokesperson.
This was because the public may speculate as to who the six applicants were, the spokesperson added.
Open justice is a fundamental principle in open court proceedings, said the AGC spokesperson.
"Redaction and sealing orders are derogations from this general principle, and must be justified by strong reasons.
"In this case, the circumstances of the six applicants did not fall within any statutory or common-law exceptions to the general principle of open justice," said the spokesperson.
Five of the trainee lawyers had shared answers for six of the papers through WhatsApp. Justice Choo has delayed their admissions to the legal profession by half a year, after the Attorney-General objected to their applications to the Bar.
The last trainee lawyer colluded with another candidate to cheat in three of the papers. According to the grounds of decision, the Attorney-General also objected to her application, and her admission to the Bar was delayed by a year as she had denied her wrongdoing and protested her innocence.
The Attorney-General is currently also considering the Bar applications of another five trainee lawyers who cheated in the 2020 Part B exams.