Ms He Ting Ru asked the Minister for Law (a) whether any steps need to be taken to address public concerns about the law students found cheating; and (b) whether the punishments meted out are sufficient.
3 Mr Seah Kian Peng asked the Minister for Law (a) whether there were similar instances of cheating by trainee lawyers in the years prior to the recent discovery of candidates cheating in the 2020 Part B Bar exam; and (b) if so, what actions were taken against them.
4 Ms He Ting Ru asked the Minister for Law (a) whether any steps need to be taken to address public concerns about the law students found cheating; and (b) whether the punishments meted out are sufficient.
5 Ms Hany Soh asked the Minister for Law (a) whether the Singapore Institute of Legal Education (SILE) has observed a similar trend of trainee lawyers cheating in their Bar examinations, especially for the 2021 cohort; and (b) whether the Ministry intends to introduce any rules to regulate trainee lawyers’ conduct so as to ensure that they are deemed ethically ready to be called to the Bar.
The Minister for Law (Mr K Shanmugam): Mr Speaker, Sir, may I have your permission to answer all the Parliamentary Questions related to the recent incidents of cheating by trainee lawyers during the 2020 Bar examinations together. That would include Question Nos 3, 4, 5 in the Order Paper from Mr Seah Kian Peng, Ms He Ting Ru and Ms Hany Soh, as well as a written Parliamentary Question No 11 from Mr Ang Wei Neng filed for today’s Sitting.
Mr Speaker: Please proceed.
Mr K Shanmugam: Thank you, Sir. Sir, the Singapore Institute of Legal Education (SILE) conducts the Bar examinations in Singapore. SILE has said that it has put in place additional safeguards to prevent cheating. It has introduced remote proctoring for examinations that are conducted online and SILE’s position is that, apart from the 11 cases which have been uncovered, they have not found any other cases of cheating in the subsequent rounds of the Bar examinations. But, of course, the fact is that there is a difference between whether it has happened and what they have found. But they have not found anything else.
As regards these particular trainee lawyers, SILE has required that all of them who cheated repeat the preparatory course and/or the Bar examinations in the next year. The Attorney-General has objected to their applications for admission because of the cheating during the Bar examinations and the Court has adjourned their hearings for admission. So, what does that mean? It means that their applications to be admitted to the Bar will be heard at some time in the future, when the adjournments end. To get admitted, they will need to convince all the stakeholders involved that they are fit and proper to practise law before they allowed to do so.
As with all admission applications, the High Court has the discretion to rule on whether a particular applicant should be admitted or should not be admitted, taking into account the views of the Attorney-General, SILE and the Law Society.
We need to be careful about how much we discuss here and I have to be careful of what I say because the applications of the trainee lawyers who cheated are still pending in Court. In the circumstances, what I can say is this: lawyers are fiduciaries. They are expected to act in the best interests of the clients they advise. They are also officers of the Court, meaning they owe a very high duty to the Court. They have to be honest, both with their clients and with the Court. They have to act with the highest standards of probity to ensure that they can be relied upon with utmost confidence. That is not just as lawyers advising clients, but in every other aspect of their conduct.
Cheating is a serious derogation from the basic principle of honesty. I think all this can be said without too much contention. There are levels of seriousness when lawyers behave dishonestly: misleading clients is serious, lying in Court is serious, lying on oath is serious. Some of these carry potential criminal consequences. There is also other conduct which if it is unbefitting of a lawyer, whether or not in the context of advising a client, can also be taken up.
These are basic principles. I am sure Members, including the Members who have asked the questions, would accept that any such 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 views of the respective institutions, which will put forward their views.
Ministry of Law
9 May 2022