Kangaroo court

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A kangaroo court is a judicial tribunal or assembly that ignores recognized standards of law or justice, and often carries little or no official standing in the territory within which it resides.[1] The term may also apply to a court held by a legitimate judicial authority who intentionally disregards the court's legal or ethical obligations.

Prejudicial bias of the decision-maker or from political decree are among the most publicized causes of kangaroo courts.[citation needed] Such proceedings are often held to give the appearance of a fair and just trial, even though the verdict has in reality already been decided before the trial has begun. An example is the trial of Pol Pot and his brother Ieng San by the People's Revolutionary Tribunal in Cambodia in August 1979. After a lengthy trial with a duration of five days, both were sentenced to death in absentia on August 19, 1979.[2] Conclusive evidence suggests that the verdicts and the sentencing papers had been prepared in advance of the trial.[3][4] Relying on this evidence the United Nations proceeded to delegitimize the tribunal stating that it did not comply with standards of international law.[2]

A kangaroo court could also develop when the structure and operation of the forum result in an inferior brand of adjudication. A common example of this is when institutional disputants ("repeat players") have excessive and unfair structural advantages over individual disputants ("one-shot players").[5]


Although the term kangaroo court has been erroneously explained to have its origin from Australia's courts while it was a penal colony,[6] the first published instance is from an American source in the year 1853.[7] Some sources suggest that it may have been popularized during the California Gold Rush of 1849, along with mustang court,[8] as a description of the hastily carried-out proceedings used to deal with the issue of claim jumping miners.[6] Ostensibly the term comes from the notion of justice proceeding "by leaps", like a kangaroo[9] – in other words, "jumping over" (intentionally ignoring) evidence that would be in favour of the defendant. Another possibility is that the phrase could refer to the pouch of a kangaroo, meaning the court is in someone's pocket. The phrase is popular in the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand and is still in common use.[10] Also note the existence of the phrase "Jumping to conclusions".

As informal proceedings in sports[edit]

The term is sometimes used without any negative connotation. For example, many Major League Baseball teams have a kangaroo court to punish players for errors and other mistakes on the field, as well as for being late for a game or practice, not wearing proper attire to road games, or having a messy locker in the clubhouse. Fines are allotted, and at the end of the year, the money collected is given to charity. The organization may also use the money for a team party at the end of the season.[11]


Some examples of adjudication venues described as kangaroo courts are the People's Court (Volksgerichtshof) of Nazi Germany that convicted people who were suspected of being involved with the failed plot to assassinate Hitler on July 20, 1944, clinical peer review,[12] and the Detention, Treatment, and Trial of Certain Non-Citizens in the War Against Terrorism military tribunals.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "kangaroo court". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 2011-11-11. 
  2. ^ a b Schlund-Vials, C. J. (2012), War, Genocide and Justice, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press
  3. ^ Chandler, D. (2008), Cambodia Deals with its Past: Collective Memory, Demonisation and Induced
  4. ^ Amnesia, Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions,Vol. 9, No. 2-3, pp. 355-369
  5. ^ Stempel, Jeffrey W. 8 Nev. L.J. 251 (2007-2008) Keeping Arbitrations from becoming Kangaroo Courts
  6. ^ a b Adams, Cecil. "What's the origin of "kangaroo court"? Is "kangaroo" aborigine for "I don't know"?". The Straight Dope. Retrieved 1 October 2012. 
  7. ^ "kangaroo court". Oxford English Dictionary. 
  8. ^ "Kangaroo Court". Etymology Online. 
  9. ^ "Minor League Baseball In this court most anything goes". The Bulletin. 
  10. ^ "Kangaroo Court". Legal Dictionary. 
  11. ^ Bouton, Jim (1990). Ball Four (2nd ed.). Wiley. ISBN 0-02-030665-2. 
  12. ^ Med Econ. 2000 Feb 7;77(3):133-6, 141. Hospital peer review is a kangaroo court. Townend DW. PMID 10848200
  13. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/2001/11/15/opinion/15SAFI.html

External links[edit]