Trainee Lawyers Who Cheated Should Face Punishment, But Not A Permanent Ban: Shanmugam

Shanmugam Says Permanently Banning Trainee Lawyers Who Cheated In Bar Exams Is Too Harsh

The practice of law is a profession that demands honesty and integrity. So when 11 law graduates cheated in their Bar examinations, debate about the extent of their punishment arose.

Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam addressed the issue directly in Parliament, stating that the trainee lawyers should not face a permanent ban.

Although they should serve a significant penalty for their offence, permanently excluding them from the field is too harsh of a punishment.

Trainee lawyers who cheated should face ‘significant sanction’ instead of permanent ban

In Parliament on Monday (9 May), Mr Shanmugam responded to questions about the law graduates who cheated in their bar examinations in 2020.

He said the trainee lawyers should serve a significant sanction due to the dishonesty of their conduct. Punishing them thus sends out the message that these cases are dealt with severely.

However, Mr Shanmugam acknowledged the necessity of giving the graduates a second chance. He thus asked what the right penalty would be, considering their age and prospects:

These are young people. Does that mean that you forever prevent them from practising? I think most people will say that would sound very harsh.

He also stressed that he was taking care in answering these questions, as the admittance of trainee lawyers’ applications for the Bar is still before the court.

In Singapore, the High Court has the ability to rule on the admission applications after taking into account the views of the Attorney-General, the Singapore Institute of Legal Education (SILE) and the Law Society, The Straits Times (ST) reported.

Furthermore, the applicants must convince all stakeholders they are fit to practise law before they do so, even if they passed the Bar exam.

On the existence of similar cheating cases in prior or following years, Mr Shanmugam affirmed that SILE did not find any other instances.

There is a difference between whether it has happened and what they found. But they haven’t found anything else.

11 trainee lawyers cheated in bar exam

High Court Judge Choo Han Teck first revealed the cases of six law graduates cheating in their Bar examination on 18 Apr.

6 Law Grads Found Cheating In S’pore Bar Exam, Judge Delays Their Admission

The following day, the Attorney-General’s Chambers said the Attorney-General was considering another five applications who may have cheated in their exams.

Five of the first six aspiring lawyers cheated on their Part B papers by sharing answers on WhatsApp.

The applicants later retook their Bar examinations and passed the following year.

Answering questions on why safeguards to prevent such cases were not more strict, Mr Shanmugam said examiners perhaps expected the graduates to exercise more honesty.

He added that the accused applicants will not need close supervision going forward. However, there may be “some merit” to having them carry out community service.

Giving aspiring lawyers a second chance

The notable difficulty of the Bar examination may have caused these graduates to sit for their papers while practising little integrity.

However, the graduates are also just starting out in their profession of becoming a lawyer. Perhaps, they have already learned from their lessons and will refrain from repeating their behaviour in the future.

What do you think of giving young aspiring lawyers a second chance to learn from their mistakes? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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Featured image adapted from MCI Singapore on YouTube

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