Trainee lawyers who cheated in Bar exam should reflect critically: Chief Justice

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said the time the trainee lawyers will need to spend outside the profession is not meant to punish them. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - The aspiring lawyers who cheated in the 2020 Bar exams should reflect carefully and critically now that the controversy they were involved in has drawn to what he hopes is a close, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said on Monday.

He stressed that the time they will need to spend outside the profession after withdrawing their applications to be admitted to the Bar is not meant to punish them.

In the grounds of decision published on Monday, Chief Justice Menon said: "(The period) is a time for reflection, learning and growth. These objectives must not be seen by the candidates with any degree of cynicism.

"They must not allow themselves to look at these months or years as dues to be paid for mere lapses in judgment or, worse, 'getting caught'.

"Nor should they resign themselves to thinking about any good work they do during this time as little more than unavoidable tasks which will need to be carried out in the accumulation of tangible markers of character growth."

In April, the cheating scandal became public when High Court judge Choo Han Teck adjourned the admission applications of six of the candidates.

The six are Ms Monisha Devaraj, Mr Kushal Atul Shah, Mr Sreeraam Ravenderan, Ms Lynn Kuek Yi Ting, Mr Matthew Chow Jun Feng and Mr Lionel Wong Choong Yoong.

Ms Monisha, Mr Shah, Mr Sreeraam, Mr Chow and Mr Wong had shared answers in six papers through WhatsApp.

Ms Kuek was then found to have colluded with a seventh candidate, Mr Leon Tay Quan Li while taking the exam.

Mr Tay sought to withdraw his admission application and was allowed by Chief Justice Menon to do so in May, under the condition that he was not to bring a fresh application for at least five years.

In August, the other six applicants were allowed by the High Court to withdraw their applications. Justice Choo did not set a time for them to reapply but suggested that they find work as paralegals or in similar endeavours so that in future, a respected mentor can attest to their suitability to be lawyers.

Another four aspiring lawyers - Mr Sean Wong Wai Loong, Ms Joleen Ong Jia Yi, Mr Lim Zi Yi and Ms Annabelle Au Jia En - were also found to have cheated in the 2020 Bar exams. All four were also allowed by the High Court to withdraw their applications.

Ms Ong, who instigated two other candidates to give her the answers for two papers, including one for ethics, is not to apply for admission for three years.

Mr Lim, who had given answers to Ms Ong for two papers, is not to apply for one year.

Ms Au, who helped Ms Ong with one paper, is not to apply for nine months.

Mr Wong, who cheated in his mediation advocacy paper by exchanging his script with another candidate and resubmitting his answers, is not to apply for admission for two years.

On Monday, the Chief Justice noted how Ms Ong was not immediately cooperative when the Singapore Institute of Legal Education investigated the cheating incident.

She initially denied communicating with Mr Lim and Ms Au, and admitted her misconduct only upon subsequent questioning.

In contrast, Mr Lim and Ms Au - who have been barred for a shorter period - were forthcoming from the onset, said Chief Justice Menon.

As for Mr Wong, the Chief Justice noted how the non-disclosure of his misconduct was a very bad misjudgment brought about by wishful thinking.

"Having strayed, I hope that Mr Wong, Ms Ong, Mr Lim and Ms Au will put in the work to regain the confidence that has been lost," said Chief Justice Menon.

He urged them to seek out mentors in the profession for guidance and expressed his hopes that the applicants will find ways to resolve the character issues that their misconduct had revealed.

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