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I am looking to replace the idiom "kangaroo court" in the following sentence:

Class followed its usual script. The professor took center stage, exposing the deep racism, sexism, colonialism and homophobia of a previous generation and like well-rehearsed actors, us students assumed our roles as moral arbiters in a kangaroo court.

I want the replacement to communicate the idea that the verdict or judgement is a forgone conclusion and that the trial/classroom is just a pretence of debate/justice as everyone already knows what the answer/verdict must be before discussion ensues.

If no good replacement can be found you could rewrite the sentence entirely to help communicate the above point.

Thanks a bunch.

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  • Could you rephrase most of that? Whether it's a 'kangaropo court' has nothing to do with whether the verdict is predetermined. For the same reason, 'bogus court' is at best unclear. MarcInManhattan's 'show trial' is prolly as close as you will get… Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 20:48
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    Given the register of your sentences, you should write "we students assumed...".
    – TimR
    Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 21:26
  • For a similar tone, you could borrow from Alice In Wonderland, "a Through-the-Looking-Glass trial" or "a Red Queen courtroom." Even just PC says it all. Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 22:00
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    You mean a "foregone" conclusion. (The word "forgone" has a different meaning.) Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 3:05
  • @RobbieGoodwin A kangaroo court ignores judicial standards. Those standards are ignored by those in power, i.e., the court itself. No kangaroo court ignores judicial standards in order to give itself less power, they only exist to trample the rights of the accused. I suppose a kangaroo court's verdict need not be explicitly pre-determined, but the whole point is that it is set up in a way to be disadvantageous for the person being tried It's very easy to infer what the outcome is going to be in a kangaroo court - the defendant will lose. Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 14:27

3 Answers 3

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M-W defines "show trial" as:

: a trial (as of political opponents) in which the verdict is rigged and a public confession is often extracted

Wikipedia says:

A show trial is a public trial in which the guilt or innocence of the defendant has already been determined.

Thus, you could write:

. . . assumed our roles as moral arbiters in a show trial.

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    +1, good answer. This is a better choice than “kangaroo court” for the OP’s needs, as it has the “foregone conclusion” meaning. Such trials are common in totalitarian dictatorships, and while there was always a jury, they never decided the outcome.
    – KrisW
    Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 15:02
  • Show trial indeed implies that the verdict is predetermined, and may work well for the OP's purposes, but it should be noted that it does not generally convey the same idea as kangaroo court. A kangaroo court is typically something improvised, and operates in a visibly haphazard manner; a typical show trial is, on the other hand, carefully staged, with a great deal of work being done to create an illusion that all the proper procedures are being followed.
    – jsw29
    Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 21:31
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Sham Trial

To be clearer about the performative duplicity of the trial, sham trial might be preferred over show trial. The two words are synonyms (and “show trial” is much more common), but “sham trial” has some advantages.

Wikipedia redirects “sham trial” to “show trial,” and there are plenty of hits in Google for “sham trial.” Per Google Ngrams, “sham trial” is used less commonly than “show trial” by an order of magnitude, but it certainly is used.

The primary advantage of “sham trial” over “show trial” is that if you are unfamiliar with both phrases, “sham trial” is much more explicit about how the trial is rigged and untrustworthy. It may not be clear to some readers that a “show trial” is—Wikipedia, for instance, feels the need to clarify at the outset of its “Show trial” article with

Not to be confused with Court show, Mock trial, or Showtrial (TV series).

Such a clarification would be less necessary with “sham trial.”

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    "Show trial" has particular historical connotations, principally with Stalin's purges, which you don't get with "sham trial". Hence "sham trial" is potentially a lot more benign. And the fact that nobody's made a TV show called Sham Trial seems an argument against using the term "sham trial", not an argument for it!
    – Stuart F
    Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 8:58
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Bogus court can be used.

A Kangoroo court is defined as

An unauthorized, bogus court. (Phrases.org.uk)

Bogus bears the meaning of

not real, or existing only in order to deceive people (Cambridge)

and

not genuine or true (used in a disapproving manner when deception has been attempted). (OxfordL)

But the whole situation could be simply characterised as a masquerade, as if teachers and students were playing roles of a play that is already written.

A masquerade is an attempt to deceive people about the true nature or identity of something.

  • He told a news conference that the elections would be a masquerade. (Collins)
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    I am not sure that saying that a 'court' is bogus (not a real court, not established according to the rules of the relevant legal system) by itself conveys the idea that its verdicts are predetermined.
    – jsw29
    Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 19:32

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