Boris Johnson has attempted to distance himself from criticisms against the Privileges Committee made by his political allies, some of whom have referred to it as a "kangaroo court."
The former prime minister was questioned about the usage of the terms "witch hunt" and "kangaroo court" to describe the committee’s Partygate probe during some tense exchanges with Tory MPs Alberto Costa and Sir Charles Walker.
As the three and a half hour committee meeting came to an end, Sir Charles told Johnson that his allies had undertaken “a concerted effort to delegitimise the committee, to call us a kangaroo court”.
Asked if he regretted that, Johnson said: “There should be no intimidation, there should be no attempt to bully any colleague in any matter whatever.” Johnson said he had raised “questions of fairness” but “I deprecate the term you have just used, I don’t want to repeat it”.
Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle had earlier warned MPs not to interfere or intimidate the Privileges Committee as it considers the matter.
In a message to MPs, the Speaker said: “A very dim view will be taken of any Member who tries to prevent the committee from carrying out this serious work, or of anyone from outside the House who interferes.”
Only hours after the Speaker’s email, Jacob Rees-Mogg told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme, when asked whether he shared the view expressed by some of Johnson’s supporters that the process was a kangaroo court: “I think you’re being very rude to marsupials… I think it makes kangaroo courts look respectable.”
Midway through proceedings, Rees-Mogg tweeted: “Boris is doing very well against the marsupials.” But what exactly is a “kangaroo court”, where does the term come from, and is it always used in a negative context? Here is everything you need to know.
What is a Kangaroo Court?
A “kangaroo court” is a mock court or a sham legal proceeding that is characterised by a lack of fairness, impartiality or adherence to legal norms and standards. It typically involves a situation where the outcome of the proceedings is predetermined, and the defendant’s guilt is assumed without proper evidence or due process.
The term “kangaroo court” is often used to describe a situation where a group or an individual takes the law into their own hands and conducts a trial or hearing without any legitimate authority or legal basis.
Such proceedings are often used to intimidate, punish or humiliate individuals, and they can occur in a variety of contexts, including workplaces, schools and even some legal systems.
Overall, a kangaroo court is an unfair and unjust process that denies individuals their rights to a fair and impartial hearing, and it is generally seen as a violation of the principles of justice and due process.
One example of a famous “kangaroo court” from history is the trial and execution of Nicolae Ceaușescu, the former communist dictator of Romania, in December 1989. After weeks of mass protests and violence, Ceaușescu and his wife were captured by the army and put on trial before a military tribunal.
The trial lasted less than an hour, and the verdict and sentence were pronounced immediately afterward, with no opportunity for defense or appeal. The tribunal found Ceaușescu guilty of genocide, sabotage and the destruction of the Romanian economy, and sentenced him to death by firing squad.
The entire trial was widely criticised as a sham and a kangaroo court, as it lacked any semblance of due process and fairness. Moreover, the trial and execution were televised, with the footage showing Ceaușescu and his wife being led out of the courtroom, protesting their innocence and being shot by soldiers in a nearby courtyard.
Where does the phrase come from?
The origins of the term “kangaroo court” are not entirely clear, but it is believed to have originated in the United States in the mid-19th century during the California Gold Rush.
At the time, it was common for miners to form ad hoc courts to settle disputes and maintain order in the mining camps. These courts were often composed of laypeople and lacked any formal legal authority or training.
One theory is the term “kangaroo court” is said to have been inspired by the jumping movements of kangaroos, which were perceived as being erratic and unpredictable, just like the proceedings of these makeshift courts.
But according to some historians, since the Gold Rush drew tens of thousands of Australians to American shores, which goes some way to explaining why the humble kangaroo may have ended up being used within the term.
Another hypothesis is that the tribunals were dubbed “kangaroo courts” because they were frequently summoned swiftly to deal with an urgent issue - i.e. they "jumped out" out of nowhere, like a kangaroo.
The term has since entered the general lexicon and is used in a variety of contexts to describe any situation that is seen as unjust or illegitimate.
What does it mean in sports?
Sometimes the phrase is used without a negative connotation. In the context of sports, particularly baseball, a “kangaroo court” is a lighthearted form of informal justice system, where players on a team impose fines or punishments on each other for violations of team rules or traditions.
For example, if a player is late to a team meeting or makes a mistake during a game, they may be subjected to a “trial” in the kangaroo court, where their teammates act as judge and jury and impose a humorous punishment, such as wearing a ridiculous costume during batting practice or buying drinks for the entire team.
The concept of a kangaroo court in sports is typically used as a way to maintain team morale and discipline in a humorous and playful way. It is often viewed as a bonding experience and a way for players to let off steam and have fun, while also holding each other accountable for their behavior on and off the field.