Kangaroo court is an informal pejorative term for 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.[1] A kangaroo court may ignore due process and come to a predetermined conclusion. The term is also used for a court held by a legitimate judicial authority, but which intentionally disregards the court's legal or ethical obligations (compare show trial).[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").[3]


The term is known to have been used in the United States in 1841: an article in The Daily Picayune, New Orleans quotes the Concordia Intelligencer reporting several lynchings "upon various charges instituted by the Kangaroo court", asking "Don't comprehend: What is a Kangaroo court?"[4] The term is not attested to have been used in Australia, native land of the kangaroo, or elsewhere before then.[5]

The term kangaroo court may have originated in England. In the late 1700s, English courts began sentencing people convicted of various crimes to "transportation" to Australia. In the 1800s this was sometimes referred to as the "Kangaroo Jump". It's possible that those sentenced to transportation may have protested that they had been convicted and sentenced by a kangaroo court. Some sources suggest that the term 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] The derivation of the term is not known, although there has been speculation. It could be from the notion of justice proceeding "by leaps", like a kangaroo[6] – in other words, "jumping over" (intentionally ignoring) evidence that would be in favour of the defendant. An alternative suggestion 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.[7][8][9]

Etymologist Philologos suggests that the term arose "because a place named Kangaroo sounded comical to its hearers, just as place names like Kalamazoo, and Booger Hole , and Okeefenokee Swamp, strike us as comical."[10]

The term is still in common use in the Anglosphere.[11][12]

As informal proceedings in sport

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 on the field, 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 or used for a team party at the end of the season.[13]

A notable example includes in 2008, Mariano Rivera, then closer for the New York Yankees, was fined by his teammates after Rivera assisted division rival Roy Halladay in developing Halladay's cut fastball, Rivera's signature pitch.

Historical examples

Some examples of quasi-judicial proceedings that could be described as kangaroo courts are:

See also


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ "Kangaroo court". Wex. Cornell Law School. Archived from the original on August 23, 2023. Retrieved July 6, 2020.
  3. ^ Stempel, Jeffrey W. (December 30, 2007). "Keeping Arbitrations from Becoming Kangaroo Courts". Nevada Law Review. 8. UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law Legal Studies: 251. Research Paper 08-05. Archived from the original on August 23, 2023. Retrieved June 30, 2023.
  4. ^ "What is a Kangaroo court, neighbor?". The Daily Picayune. August 24, 1841. p. 2 – via Newspapers.com.
  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. Archived from the original on August 23, 2023. Retrieved October 1, 2012.
  6. ^ "Minor league baseball in this court most anything goes". The [Norwich] Bulletin. Archived from the original on April 11, 2013.
  7. ^ "Definition of kangaroo court". www.merriam-webster.com. Retrieved September 2, 2020.
  8. ^ "Kangaroo court". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved September 2, 2020.
  9. ^ Mohr, Melissa (October 24, 2019). "'Kangaroo court' has a peculiarly American past". Christian Science Monitor. ISSN 0882-7729. Archived from the original on October 1, 2020. Retrieved September 2, 2020.
  10. ^ Philologos (June 17, 2020). "The origins of the phrase "kangaroo court" have been hiding in plain sight". Mosaic. Retrieved June 17, 2020.
  11. ^ Lehman, Jeffrey; Phelps, Shirelle (2005). West's Encyclopedia of American Law. Vol. 1 (2 ed.). Detroit: Thomson/Gale. p. 57. ISBN 9780787663742.
  12. ^ Martin, Sarah (November 25, 2021). "Morrison accuses critics of wanting 'kangaroo court' as Liberal MP crosses floor over integrity bill". The Guardian Australia. Archived from the original on December 2, 2021. Retrieved December 2, 2021. I'm not going to have a kangaroo court taken into this parliament.
  13. ^ Bouton, Jim (1990). Ball Four (2nd ed.). Wiley. ISBN 0-02-030665-2.
  14. ^ Epstein, Catherine (2015). Nazi Germany: Confronting the Myths. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 59, 191. ISBN 978-1-118-29478-9.
  15. ^ 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". 1836. Archived from the original on August 23, 2023. Retrieved July 30, 2021. in the collection Slave Rebels, Abolitionists, and Southern Courts
  16. ^ a b Schlund-Vials, C.J. (2012). War, Genocide and Justice. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 978-0-8166-7096-3. Archived from the original on June 30, 2023. Retrieved June 30, 2023.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ Plokhy, S. (2020). Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe. Basic Books.

Further reading