No other cheating cases found apart from 11 trainee lawyers who cheated in 2020 Bar exams: Shanmugam
SINGAPORE: Apart from the 11 trainee lawyers who cheated in the 2020 Bar exams, the Singapore Institute of Legal Education (SILE) has not found other cases of cheating, including in subsequent rounds of exams, said Law Minister K Shanmugam on Monday (May 9).
Speaking in Parliament, he said that "there is a difference" between whether cheating in the exams had occurred and what the SILE has found. But Mr Shanmugam, who is also Home Affairs Minister, reiterated that the institute has "not found anything else".
He noted that SILE said it has put in place additional safeguards to prevent cheating, and introduced remote proctoring for online exams.
As for the trainees who were found to have cheated, they are required to repeat their preparatory course and/or the Bar exams in the next year, and the court has adjourned their hearings for admission.
Their applications to be admitted will be heard when the adjournments end.
“To get admitted, they will need to convince all stakeholders involved that they are fit and proper to practise law before they are allowed to do so,” said Mr Shanmugam.
HIGHEST STANDARDS OF PROBITY
The situation must be discussed carefully, as the applications of the cheating lawyers are still pending in court, Mr Shanmugam said.
He added that lawyers, as fiduciaries, are expected to act in the best interests of their clients. At the same time, they "owe a very high duty" to the court.
“They have to act with the highest standards of probity, to ensure that they can be relied upon with utmost confidence," he said.
He added that cheating is a “serious derogation from the basic principle of honesty”, and any dishonest conduct is “quite unacceptable”.
“What happens to the particular trainee lawyers’ applications, how they will be dealt with, the courts will decide, taking into account the view of the respective institutions, which will put forth their views," said the minister.
MP Seah Kian Peng (PAP-Marine Parade) asked about second chances for the cheating trainee lawyers, given that their names have now been revealed.
Mr Shanmugam said the approach should be to consider what the offence is and who committed it.
In this case, the offence of cheating is serious and given that trainee lawyers committed it, it is “doubly serious”.
He added: “These are young people. Does it mean that you forever prevent them from practising? I think most people will say that would sound very harsh.
"So what is the appropriate penalty, taking into account the seriousness of the offence, but also their age? Should they forever be prevented from being lawyers, being called to the Bar? I think most people will think that is probably too harsh.
“Should they face a significant sanction that brings across the seriousness of the conduct? I think most people will agree with that. Within that framework, how the courts decide, I think we have to wait and see.”
MP Hany Soh (PAP-Marsiling-Yew Tee) asked whether the cheating lawyers could be "conditionally called" to the Bar and come under close supervision from other lawyers.
Mr Shanmugam said: "As to whether they need close supervision, I think at 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."
He added that there was "some merit" to the point about requiring the cheating trainees to do some service to the community, but this is not decided by the Government, but the court.