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A kangaroo court is a judicial tribunal or assembly that blatantly disregards recognized standards of law or justice, and often carries little or no official standing in the territory within which it resides. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as "a mock court in which the principles of law and justice are disregarded or perverted".
A kangaroo court is often held by a group or a community to give the appearance of a fair and just trial, even though the verdict has in reality already been decided before the trial has begun. Such courts typically take place in rural areas where legitimate law enforcement may be limited. The term may also apply to a court held by a legitimate judicial authority who intentionally disregards the court's legal or ethical obligations.
There is some debate over the origin of the term kangaroo court, but some sources suggest that it may have been popularized during the California Gold Rush of 1849, as a description of the hastily carried-out proceedings used to deal with the issue of claim jumping miners. Other sources claim that the term comes from the notion of justice proceeding "by leaps", like a kangaroo. Some[who?] have suggested that the phrase could refer to the pouch of a kangaroo, meaning the court is in someone's pocket. The phrase is considered an Americanism and is still in common use.
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.
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