Karaoke Court is actually a thing

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By Katie King on

The brains behind the legally binding sing-offs found his inspiration in an undergrad jurisprudence lecture


Tomorrow, would-be litigants will be singing their hearts out at London’s Karaoke Court in a bid to resolve their legal disputes through the Inuit and Arctic Eskimo tradition of song duelling.

Yes, really.

Karaoke Court is “an arbitration process where litigants agree to resolve their disputes by karaoke singing before an audience-jury.”

Presided over by actual real judge Rachel Karp — who is a member of the UK Association of Women Judges alongside Lady Hale — singers fight it out The Voice style to impress the ‘jury’, who decide the result.

Singers can perform any song that is available with a karaoke-style backing track, and sometimes participants change a few words here and there to make the song more personal to the dispute.

Two of this year’s singers are Tom and Marissa, a loved up couple bickering over where to raise their future family. Marissa is a London girl, and has no desire to up sticks and move. Fittingly, she will be singing LDN by Lily Allen at the Karaoke Court.

Tom, however, wants to move abroad, though he’s not quite sure where to yet. He’ll be performing Walking Away by Craig David. If she wins, the pair will stay in London for three years from 1 April 2017. If he wins, the pair will move abroad from the same date. Both have agreed to accept whatever the jury decides.

Some examples of past sing-offs include mother and daughter disputees arguing about curfew times. Weightier disputes include a band manager and band leader bickering over the group’s future direction, and a music tutor and student singing it out to have their say over next year’s music syllabus.

At first glance it seems a bit satirical, but we’re sure the show would make a nice break from the hysteria of EU referendum D-Day. And let’s not forget the decision of the court is legally binding because participating singers sign an arbitration contract, so there’s potentially a lot at stake here.

What Legal Cheek really wanted to know is who the hell came up with this idea, and how the hell they came up with it.

Enter artist Jack Tan, who is actually a trained lawyer.

The PhD student studied the LLB at the University of Hull, and then went on to train up at a civil law firm in Buckinghamshire. Now, he makes law-themed art.

Interestingly, the inspiration for Karaoke Court dates back to Tan’s law school days. Speaking to Legal Cheek, he explained:

I remembered an undergraduate jurisprudence lecture about Inuit dispute resolution where the community used ‘song duels’ as a way of deciding cases… It seemed to me a very interesting thing that the main function of law in the Inuit context was to strengthen and repair the social fabric, rather than, in our case, the assertion of individual rights or to find facts or blame. So I created a work of art that allowed me and us to explore a form of litigation that had this different (Inuit) emphasis.

Though he admits Karaoke Court is characterised by “festivity, humour, witty insults, performance, and laughter” — words not often associated with legal dispute resolution — he really hopes it will catch on. He continued:

I think alternative dispute resolution is a really important aspect of law because it allows us gradations of litigation before using the courts. No need for a sledgehammer to crack a nut!

Karaoke Court is one of many exhibits running at Tan’s ‘Law’s Imagination’, an eight week long art exhibition “exploring the connections between legal and art practice”.