Kangaroo court

Kangaroo court

A kangaroo court is "a mock court in which the principles of law and justice are disregarded or perverted".[1]

The outcome of a trial by kangaroo court is essentially determined in advance, usually for the purpose of ensuring conviction, either by going through the motions of manipulated procedure or by allowing no defense at all. A kangaroo court's proceedings deny, hinder or obstruct due process rights in the name of expediency. Typically, a kangaroo court will deliberately abuse one or more of the following rights of the accused:

  • right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty
  • right to control one's own defense e.g. selecting one's own defense counsel
  • right to hear a full and precise statement of the charges made against the accused
  • right to have adequate time and resources to prepare a defense against the charges
  • right not to incriminate oneself
  • right to summon witnesses
  • right of cross-examination
  • right to introduce evidence which supports acquittal of the accused
  • right to exclude evidence that is improperly obtained, irrelevant or inherently inadmissible, e.g., hearsay
  • right not to be tried on secret evidence
  • right to exclude judges or jurors on the grounds of partiality, prejudice or conflict of interest
  • right to have a verbatim stenographic record of the trial proceedings created
  • right to have no interference or undue influence made by external agencies e.g. political or military leaders
  • right of appeal against conviction



The term kangaroo court may have been popularized during the California Gold Rush of 1849. The first recorded use is from 1853 in a Texas context.[2] It comes from the notion of justice proceeding "by leaps", like a kangaroo.[2] The phrase is considered an Americanism.[2]

Mock justice

The term is often applied to courts subjectively judged as such, while others consider the court to be legitimate and legal. A kangaroo court may be a court that has had its integrity compromised; for example, if the judge is not impartial and refuses to be recused.

It may also be an elaborately scripted event intended to appear fair while having the outcome predetermined from the start. Terms meaning "show trial", like the German Schauprozess, indicate the result is fixed before (usually guilty): the "trial" is just for show. Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin's kangaroo trials against his enemies, whom he labeled enemies of the people, were notorious, notably in the context of the Great Purge.

In 2008, Singapore’s Attorney-General applied to the High Court to commence contempt proceedings against three individuals who appeared in the new Supreme Court building wearing identical white T-shirts bearing a palm-sized picture of a kangaroo dressed in a judge’s gown.[3]

Following the January 25 Revolution in Egypt in 2011, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces used military trials to obtain convictions of civilians in possibly over 10,000 trials that lasted on average 20 minutes, and in some cases lasting only a few minutes.[4]

Examples of show trials

  • Joseph Stalin's Show Trials in 1936, 1937 and 1938, where the accused were being tortured to confess, in the context of the Great Purge.
  • The Nazi Volksgerichtshof trials of the 20 July plot collaborators, who attempted to assassinate Hitler. The accused were stripped of their belts to appear pathetic before the audience, having to hold up their pants. The judge, Roland Freisler, a fanatical Nazi, shouted furious insults at the accused throughout the trial, which was filmed for propaganda purposes.[5]

As informal proceedings in sports

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.[6]

This type of kangaroo court is common in Rugby Union teams and clubs in the West where fines are given at the end of a tour or season. The fines are dealt with either by forfeits or tasks.

In 1975, the Cleveland Indians of the American League held a kangaroo court where players were fined one dollar for silly offenses,[7] and the New York Yankees players have held several such mock "courts" in their clubhouse throughout the team's history.[8]

Professional sport governing bodies including FIFA and the English FA have also been regularly known to run their disciplinary procedures for officials, players and clubs/nations under such conditions

See also


  1. ^ "kangaroo court". Merriam-Webster: Dictionary (online). http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/kangaroo%20court. Retrieved 2011-11-11. 
  2. ^ a b c "kangaroo court" dictionary.com
  3. ^ "Three face court over kangaroo T-shirts". Reuters. http://uk.reuters.com/article/oddlyEnoughNews/idUKTRE49D3XB20081014. 
  4. ^ Hendawi, Hamza (18 July 2011). "Egyptians fear army rulers acting as new Mubaraks". The Daily News Egypt. http://www.thedailynewsegypt.com/egypt/egyptians-fear-army-rulers-acting-as-new-mubaraks.html. Retrieved 19 July 2011. 
  5. ^ William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (Touchstone Edition) (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990) pp. 1070-1071
  6. ^ Bouton, Jim (1990). Ball Four (2nd ed. ed.). Wiley. ISBN 0-0203-0665-2. 
  7. ^ Schneider, Russell J. (1976), Frank Robinson: The Making of a Manager, New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, ISBN 0698107314 .
  8. ^ http://bombersbeat.mlblogs.com/archives/2010/07/kangaroo_court_is_in_session.html

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • kangaroo court — n. A court that is completely biased against one party and therefore disregards that party’s rights and delivers a judgment or verdict that is unfair to him or her; a trial in a kangaroo court is considered a sham without legal authority. The… …   Law dictionary

  • kangaroo court — kangaroo courts N COUNT (disapproval) If you refer to a court or a meeting as a kangaroo court, you disapprove of it because it is unofficial or unfair, and is intended to find someone guilty …   English dictionary

  • kangaroo court — When people take the law into their own hands and form courts that are not legal, these are known as kangaroo court …   The small dictionary of idiomes

  • kangaroo court — n an unofficial court that punishes people unfairly …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • kangaroo court — noun count INFORMAL a court that is not official and is organized to punish someone whether they have committed a crime or not …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • kangaroo court — ► NOUN ▪ an unofficial court formed by a group of people to try someone regarded as guilty of an offence …   English terms dictionary

  • kangaroo court — ☆ kangaroo court n. [said to be so named because its justice progresses by leaps and bounds] Informal 1. an unauthorized, irregular court, usually disregarding normal legal procedure, as one in a frontier region 2. any tribunal in which judgment… …   English World dictionary

  • kangaroo court — 1. n. a bogus or extra legal court. □ Is this a newspaper office or a kangaroo court? □ You have turned this interview into a kangaroo court. 2. n. a legally convened court operating unjustly. □ “Let me out of this kangaroo court,” muttered Fred …   Dictionary of American slang and colloquial expressions

  • kangaroo court — {n.} A self appointed group that decides what to do to someone who is supposed to have done wrong. * /The Chicago mob held a kangaroo court and shot the gangster who competed with Al Capone./ …   Dictionary of American idioms

  • kangaroo court — {n.} A self appointed group that decides what to do to someone who is supposed to have done wrong. * /The Chicago mob held a kangaroo court and shot the gangster who competed with Al Capone./ …   Dictionary of American idioms

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