'Leak' leads to bar law exam being aborted

An "administrative error" has led to the leaking of answers to a South African bar exam paper.

Bar candidates were scheduled to write the Motion Court paper at different venues on Monday.

It was then discovered that copies of the model answers had erroneously been issued with the exam papers. The exam was immediately postponed to Wednesday.

But, as would-be legal practitioners sat for the second time to take the exam, it was discovered that the answers had been "leaked" via WhatsApp and the exam was terminated.

Advocate Noel Graves, SC, chairperson of pupillage at the Johannesburg Bar, confirmed to News24 that the model answers had been given to candidates by mistake.

"The chief invigilator discovered that the answers had been included but they had not yet been handed out to candidates in Johannesburg," Graves said.

"It seems that they were in fact handed out at one of the other bars. The instruction was then given by the National Bar Examination Board (NBEB), which is an independent body, that the examination be postponed."

'Under investigation'

Graves told News24 the exam was postponed to Wednesday as it was not at that time known that there had been a leak "via social media of certain portions of the paper".

"That was discovered on Wednesday and there was an immediate call to the head of the NBEB who then gave the instruction that the exam should be aborted."

Graves added that all the constituent bars were engaging with the General Council of the Bar (GCB) of SA to find another date for the exam, which would be a completely new paper.

"The matter is under investigation," Graves said.

Advocate Craig Watt-Pringle, SC, chairperson of the GCB, told News24 that while an investigation would take place, "the focus now is on getting the exams completed".

"I'm trying to get to the bottom of the administrative error which resulted in the answers being distributed [on Monday].

"Someone had obtained a copy of the paper while it was being distributed and the exam [on Wednesday] was aborted.

"We are in the process of setting a new exam."

'Troubling conduct'

According to Watt-Pringle, the postponement could be disruptive to the 278 candidates nationwide, as they had expected to complete the exams this week and some had made holiday plans.

"So we're probably going to have to schedule it in about two weeks' time."

"I don't have clarity on the actual leak, but it does seem that, in the short time that the paper was out there, somebody managed to copy it somehow, probably by photographing it with a cellphone.

"We realised that the exam had been compromised and had to be aborted and that's what we did. How far that WhatsApp went, I have no idea."

Graves said the leak on WhatsApp was "troubling conduct" but emphasised that the distribution of answers had initially been an administrative blunder.

Watt-Pringle said candidates sat for a total of five papers at the country's various bar associations. Exams at the various centres take place simultaneously.

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