Kangaroo court

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A session of the People's Court in Nazi Germany, a kangaroo court that conducted show trials of political enemies[1]

A kangaroo court is a court that ignores recognized standards of law or justice, carries little or no official standing in the territory within which it resides, and is typically convened ad hoc.[2] A kangaroo court may ignore due process and come to a predetermined conclusion. The term may also apply to a court held by a legitimate judicial authority which intentionally disregards the court's legal or ethical obligations (compare show trial).[3]

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").[4]


The term kangaroo court is often erroneously believed to have its origin from the courts of Australia's penal colonies.[5] The Oxford English Dictionary cites the first published instance of the term as from an American source, A Stray Yankee in Texas by Philip Paxton, published in 1853.[6] There are, however, earlier instances of the term, including an 1841 article in The Daily Picayune, New Orleans, that quotes another publication, the Concordia Intelligencer, reporting several lynchings instituted "on charges of the Kangaroo court". The Picayune article also asks "What is a kangaroo court?"[7]

Some sources suggest that it may have been popularized during the California Gold Rush of 1849 to which many thousands of Australians flocked. In consequence of the Australian miners' presence, it may have come about as a description of the hastily carried-out proceedings used to deal with the issue of claim jumping miners.[5]

Ostensibly, the term comes from the notion of justice proceeding "by leaps", like a kangaroo[8] – in other words, "jumping over" (intentionally ignoring) evidence that would be in favour of the defendant. An alternative theory is that as these courts are often convened quickly to deal with an immediate issue, they are called kangaroo courts since they have "jumped up" out of nowhere, like a kangaroo. Another possibility is that the phrase could refer to the pouch of a kangaroo, meaning the court is in someone's pocket.[9][10][11]

Etymologist Philologos argues that the term arose "because a place named Kangaroo sounded comical to its hearers, just as place names like Kalamazoo, and Booger Hole, and Okefenokee Swamp, strike us as comical."[12]

The phrase is popular in the Anglosphere and is still in common use.[13][14]

As informal proceedings in sport[edit]

The term is sometimes used without any negative connotation. For example, many Major League Baseball and Minor 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.[15]


Some examples of adjudication venues described as kangaroo courts are:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Epstein, Catherine (2015). Nazi Germany: Confronting the Myths. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 59, 191. ISBN 978-1-118-29478-9.
  2. ^ Scharf, Michael P. (2006). "The United States and the International Criminal Court: A Recommendation for the Bush Administration". ILSA Journal of International and Comparative Law. 2: 385.
  3. ^ "Kangaroo court". Wex. Cornell Law School. Retrieved July 6, 2020.
  4. ^ Stempel, Jeffrey W. 8 Nev. L.J. 251 (2007–2008) Keeping Arbitrations from becoming Kangaroo Courts
  5. ^ a b Adams, Cecil (January 4, 1985). "What's the origin of "kangaroo court"? Is "kangaroo" aborigine for "I don't know"?". The Straight Dope. Retrieved October 1, 2012.
  6. ^ "kangaroo court". Oxford English Dictionary.
  7. ^ "What is a kangaroo court, neighbor?". Don't comprehend. The Daily Picayune. August 24, 1841. p. 2. Retrieved October 9, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  8. ^ "Minor league baseball in this court most anything goes". The [Norwich] Bulletin. Archived from the original on April 11, 2013.
  9. ^ "Definition of kangaroo court". www.merriam-webster.com. Retrieved September 2, 2020.
  10. ^ "Kangaroo court". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved September 2, 2020.
  11. ^ "'Kangaroo court' has a peculiarly American past". Christian Science Monitor. October 24, 2019. ISSN 0882-7729. Retrieved September 2, 2020.
  12. ^ Philologos (June 17, 2020). "The origins of the phrase "kangaroo court" have been hiding in plain sight". Mosaic. Retrieved June 17, 2020.
  13. ^ Lehman, Jeffrey; Phelps, Shirelle (2005). West's Encyclopedia of American Law. Vol. 1 (2 ed.). Detroit: Thomson/Gale. p. 57. ISBN 9780787663742.
  14. ^ Martin, Sarah (November 25, 2021). "Morrison accuses critics of wanting 'kangaroo court' as Liberal MP crosses floor over integrity bill". The Guardian Australia. Retrieved December 2, 2021. "I’m not going to have a kangaroo court taken into this parliament.”
  15. ^ Bouton, Jim (1990). Ball Four (2nd ed.). Wiley. ISBN 0-02-030665-2.
  16. ^ "Great Purge – History & Facts". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved September 2, 2020.
  17. ^ Dresser, Amos (1836). The narrative of Amos Dresser : With Stone's letters from Natchez, an obituary notice of the writer, and two letters from Tallahassee, relating to the treatment of slaves. New-York, NY: American Anti-Slavery Society. — Link is to a "reprinting". in the collection Slave Rebels, Abolitionists, and Southern Courts
  18. ^ a b Schlund-Vials, C.J. (2012). War, Genocide and Justice. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
  19. ^ Chandler, David (2008). "Cambodia deals with its past: Collective memory, demonisation, and induced amnesia". Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions. 9 (2–3): 355–369. doi:10.1080/14690760802094933. S2CID 143128754.

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