Judge reverses decision to redact names of 6 trainee lawyers who cheated in 2020 Bar exam

Five of them had their applications adjourned for six months, while the last had hers adjourned for a year. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - The identities of six aspiring lawyers who had cheated in the 2020 Bar examination have been disclosed, after High Court judge Choo Han Teck on Wednesday (April 27) reversed his decision to redact their names.

This followed an application by the Attorney-General for the judge to rescind his earlier orders to redact their names and seal the court files to prevent third parties from viewing them. The application was supported by the Law Society.

"Initially, I believed that redacting the names of the applicants would let them go about the process of recovery quietly and uneventfully, but I am now of the view that it is better to face the publicity than to hide from it," said Justice Choo.

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.

On April 18, Justice Choo issued written grounds to say he had adjourned applications by the six to be called to the Bar.

The Attorney-General had objected to their admission because they had cheated in the 2020 Bar exam known as Part B, which was held online.

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

They admitted their conduct as soon as the Singapore Institute of Legal Education (Sile), which conducts the exam and the course leading to the exam, began its inquiry.

In letters to Justice Choo, the five aspiring lawyers said they admitted to sharing answers in six papers even though Sile presented evidence of similarity in answers in two papers.

They also agreed to being named, and said they were deeply remorseful and repentant, adding that they had never faced any academic misconduct offences.

Ms Kuek denied cheating but the institute rejected her explanation and found that she had colluded with another candidate and cheated in three papers. 

The five were required to retake the six papers, while Ms Kuek had to retake the entire course. They were disciplined by Sile and required to disclose the disciplinary actions during their admission proceedings.

The five had their applications adjourned for six months.

Ms Kuek, who apologised for her conduct two days before the admission hearing, had hers adjourned for a year.

In the spirit of "second chances", Justice Choo had directed that the six not be named in the hope that they would not face prejudice in the long run.

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However, it created unhappiness among some members of the public who believe that the trainees got off lightly and also raised speculation about their identities.

On Wednesday, Justice Choo said: "The tremendous public interest in the applicants' identities seems to have been borne by a mix of curiosity, indignation as well as sympathy.

"But strong sentiments may sometimes interfere with the proper understanding of the idea of second chances. We know that there are different kinds of people where second chances are concerned - those who believe in them and those who don't.

"And there are those who need them, and those who give them. And in between, there is a vast stretch in which we can debate to no end as to who is deserving and who is not."

The Law Society, in a statement on Wednesday, said the court’s latest decision has quashed speculation as to the six applicants’ identities.

The society believes in the concept of open justice, said president Adrian Tan, who added that it did not apply to have the names of the six applicants redacted. 

“Whenever names of wrongdoers are redacted, or files sealed from public view, it invites speculation and suspicion. This is heightened when the matter is of public interest,” said Mr Tan.

He added that the society had made submissions in court on Wednesday in support of rescinding the judge’s earlier orders. 

“For the record, the Law Society did not give its consent to the admission of the six applicants to the Bar. 

“The six applicants are not members of the Bar, and are not members of the Law Society,” said Mr Tan, adding that the society does not have statutory power to take further action against the six applicants.

Five of the six were known to be working as legal executives.

In a statement, law firm Harry Elias Partnership, where Mr Shah is working as a legal executive, said the partners do not condone his conduct at the Bar exam.

However, the partners said they will echo and apply the call for grace and mercy in the spirit of second chances as stated by Justice Choo.

The statement said Mr Shah’s future with the firm will depend on whether he is called to the Bar, his work attitude and the integrity and professionalism he brings to his work.

Law firm Dentons Rodyk said Mr Chow is no longer employed by the company, which “expects the highest standard of probity” from its employees.

  • Additional reporting by Samuel Devaraj

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