The sacked defense secretary of the UK Gavin Williamson said that he was the victim of a ‘kangaroo court’ that unfairly blamed him for a leak from the National Security Council. The term ‘kangaroo court’ is so common that its strangeness slipped past me and until now I had never wondered where such unusual turn of phrase might have come from. It is only after I had made that post that the thought occurred to me: Why kangaroo? What has that animal done to become synonymous with an unfair judicial proceeding where the normal procedures of justice are perverted so that the outcome is determined is even before proceedings start?
You would think that the term originated in Australia but its first recorded use in print was in the US back in 1853. The origins are unclear but Merriam Webster has some theories.
A kangaroo court has never been a court by or for kangaroos, but beyond that, little is known for sure about the term’s origins. Various theories abound: it has been suggested that kangaroo courts got their name because they were initially marked by rapid and unpredictable movement from one place to another, or that they were in some way associated with “jumping” (i.e., illegally occupying) mining claims. These hypotheses are all unsubstantiated, however. What is known is that the first kangaroo courts originated in the United States at approximately the time of the 1849 California Gold Rush, and the word saw its earliest use in the southwestern U.S. It first turned up in print in 1853 in a book about Texas.
Wikipedia suggests that the presence of Australians during the Gold Rush may have been the source for the phrase.
Interesting, but none of these theories seem very convincing to me. We may never know why this innocent marsupial became emblematic of injustice.