A kangaroo court
or kangaroo trial
, sometimes likened to a drumhead court-martial
or Drumhead trial
, is a sham legal
proceeding or court
. Kangaroo courts are judicial proceedings that deny due process
rights in the name of expediency. Such rights include the right to summon witnesses, the right of cross-examination, the right not to incriminate oneself, the right not to be tried on secret evidence, the right to control one's own defense, the right to exclude evidence that is improperly obtained, irrelevant or inherently inadmissible (e.g. hearsay
), the right to exclude judges or jurors on the grounds of partiality or conflict of interest, and the right of appeal. The outcome of a trial by "kangaroo court" is essentially determined in advance, usually for the purpose of providing a conviction, either by going through the motions of manipulated procedure or by allowing no defense at all.
The term seems not to originate from Australia
, the native continent of kangaroos
. The oldest known usage instead stems from the California Gold Rush
, with the first written reference (1853) in a Texas
context (also mustang court
), from the notion of proceeding "by leaps" like the eponymous marsupial. It is possible that the phrase arose out of a combination of informal courts convened to deal with "claim jumpers", such courts being named "kangaroo courts" by some of the many Australian participants in the Gold Rush together with a bit of local word play
. As many of the participants of the gold rushes had emigrated from Australia and were deeply unpopular it is also believed that anti-Australian sentiment amongst more "local" participants resulted in predetermined outcomes against these Australian immigrants - hence "Kangaroo court".
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. Notorious were Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin
's kangaroo trials against his enemies, whom he labeled enemies of the people
, notably in the context of the Great Purge
. Another example is Roland Freisler
's "processes" against the enemies of the National-Socialist
- The term is sometimes used without any negative connotation. For example, a baseball team might have a kangaroo court to punish players for errors and other mistakes on the field. 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.
- The video game magazine Amiga Power had a feature called 'Kangaroo Court' in its later years, criticizing game features it disliked, such as contrived fantasy plots and games which were inferior clones of other games.
- The children's television show Arthur featured a board game entitled "Kangaroo Court", apparently parodying the justice system.
- English shoegaze/britpop band Adorable released a song titled "Kangaroo Court" on their second album, Fake, and as a single. The song suggests that the music critics during the 1990s were a kangaroo court, having decided the fate and direction of bands with little regard for the actual music.
- In the universe of Star Trek, the Cardassian system of justice operates on a similar system. All trials are conducted with the outcome predetermined; the function of the trial is simply to show to the public the futility of rebellion against the state.
- In "The Pot", a song by the band Tool on their album 10,000 Days, the band refers to a kangaroo court with lyrics such as: Kangaroo done hung the juror, with the innocent. Lyrics such as these are repeated throughout the song.
- At the end of every annual camp, Bournemouth School CCF holds a "Kangaroo Court" that awards the cadets and everyone who attended the camp with prizes for certain characteristics displayed throughout the camp, for example: "Dirtiest Cadet", "Most Rotund Cadet".
- Mr. Harman in Are You Being Served? once referred to a Kangaroo Court as "where they leap over the bounds of justice."
- In 1975, the Cleveland Indians of the American League had a Kangaroo Court where players were fined one dollar for silly offenses.
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