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What’s The Real Story Behind the Term ‘Kangaroo Court?’

kangaroo
daveynin, flickr

Hopefully you’ll never be tried by a kangaroo court. And no, that doesn’t mean the jury will be made up of boxing marsupials.

A ‘kangaroo court’ is a law court set up to look like justice is being served, when in fact the proceedings are a farce, held only for the sake of appearances. It’s also held in baseball clubhouses to hand down penalties for poor play. There seems to be several theories out there as to how this expression got started. Let’s take a look at a few.

An Australian Origin?

Since kangaroos are found only in Australia, you would think the term does in fact come from Down Under. When settlers were first making their way across the Outback, they would hold ‘hopper’s courts’ from time to time, when there was some legal trouble that needed resolving. ‘Hopper’ most likely refers to kangaroos, but unfortunately there is a lack of written documentation, or evidence, that proves this term was in fact used by early European pioneers in Australia, although many claim it was.

Animals That Likes To Stare

So what do kangaroos have in common with a jury of your peers? Well, apparently when a roo, or a boomer encounters a human being, it will halt in its tracks and gape blankly at the person in question for a long time, before eventually skipping off. Perhaps that vacant stare is reminiscent of the looks jurors get when they are mulling over the facts of a difficult case.

An American Origin

Americans in the 19th century knew about kangaroos, even if they’d never see one before, and their famed jumping abilities. It seems the term sprung into usage around the 1850s, during the California Gold Rush, to describe ‘claim jumpers.’ Claim jumpers were people who grabbed the land rights of others, especially mineral rights. Kangaroo courts might have been set up by those involved in the mining profession to deal with these jumpers.

Modern Day Kangaroo Courts

These days it seems you most often read about kangaroo courts when some dictator wants to give the appearance of serving justice, when in fact the decisions the ‘court’ will eventually arrive at have been decided well ahead of time. Perhaps the ‘kangaroos’ being referred to are simply the wild jumps in logical these types of proceedings tend to make.

Regardless of the true origins of this term, try not to become the defendant in one of these trials, because the ruling won’t go in your favor. Best avoid tangles with the law in places where kangaroo courts prevail.

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