Like other social institutions one finds a rudimentary system of providing justice in primitive societies. The organization for provision of justice is vague and lacks the complex structure found in modern societies.
The basis of this system is generally the kinship group. The responsibility for identifying and punishing the criminal in primitive societies lies with the kinship group collectively. Since in most of the primitive societies the hereditary chief represents the collectivity, he is therefore the leader in carrying out the system of justice.
He performs this function generally with the help of a council of elders. This council is constituted by representatives of different sub-groups, within the particular primitive society. The council of elders advises about the type and quantum of punishment given to the offender.
The rudimentary organization of justice, in primitive society is due to the fact that the society is a simple and small group based upon kinship relationships, and face to face relations generally devoid of much external contact.
The customary laws are generally followed due to the fear of public opinion. Most of the social rules are not violated since it will make the offender an object of laughter and his social status will be considerably reduced. Since a primitive society is generally a small community where each one knows everyone else and everyone has to pass his life in contact with others, social mockery is the biggest punishment. Therefore, the entire primitive system of social justice is very much facilitated due to the effectiveness of public opinion.
It is clear from the above discussion that the system of justice in primitive societies is carried on by collective responsibility. For example, in a clan organization, the members consider themselves blood relations.
Therefore, if someone misbehaves with some other members of the clan, the rest of the metribers oppose him. This social consciousness is clear in the saying “strike may clan brother and you strike me”.
Thus every wrong act within or out of the clan is avenged collectively. Another significant aspect of collective responsibility is the collective feeling of shame and fame. The bad name for a bad act is not applicable to the doer alone but is felt by the total group. Thus others will not allow him to carry on his nefarious activities.
This is not only applicable to clan groups but even to the tribes outside the clan. For example, in Hupa tribe if a member is killed by someone, the other people kill some or the other member of the murderer’s family.
It is so since the crime of a person is considered not only against an individual but against the whole group. It is due to this sense of collective responsibility again that the group has a collective responsibility to punish the criminal member.
In Ifugao tribe sometimes a murderer was left without punishment, but he was punished by other members of the group. Since collective responsibility is useful for everyone, it is in everyone’s interest to maintain it. Sometimes the reprisal is small while at other times it ends in almost a war. Thus the responsibility is closely linked with the question of survival. Therefore, if A harms B, A’ group tries to restrain him and arrange for compensation to B.