Posted by: Jack Henry | June 15, 2018

Editor’s Corner: Kangaroo Court

Dear Editrix,

I’ve been wondering about the term “kangaroo court.” Can you tell me where this term originated and why we use it?



Curious About Kangaroos

Dear Curious About Kangaroos,

Your answer is just a hop, skip, and a bop away (be careful, male kangaroos do love to box).

First, a definition from Merriam-Webster, along with some examples:

kangaroo court (noun)

1: a mock court in which the principles of law and justice are disregarded or perverted

a: one held by vagabonds or by prisoners in a jail or prison camp

<kangaroo courts … are vicious organizations controlled by the most perverted and brutal prisoners — J. V. B. Bennett>

<non-Communist prisoners sentenced to death by Red kangaroo courtsArmy-Navy-Air Force Journal>

b: one involving comic procedures and ludicrous penalties designed for the amusement of the participants and spectators

<kangaroo courts —to which anyone not in Western garb can be hauled and fined — Helen Gould>

2: a court or a similar body (as a legislative investigating committee) characterized by irresponsible, unauthorized, or irregular status or procedures

And here is where it’s from. According to Wikipedia:

The term kangaroo court is often erroneously believed to have its origin from Australia’s courts while it was a penal colony. However, the first published instance of the term is from an American source in the year 1853. Some sources suggest that it may have been popularized during the California Gold Rush of 1849, along with mustang court, as a description of the hastily carried-out proceedings used to deal with the issue of claim jumping miners. Ostensibly the term comes from the notion of justice proceeding "by leaps," like a kangaroo—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.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: