A so-called loyalist supergrass is set to discover next spring if he will stand trial for a catalogue of murders and paramilitary crime.
Gary Haggarty’s legal team told a court on Wednesday they were aiming to be ready for committal proceedings sometime in March.
Barrister Fiona Doherty also said: “It’s probably going to be a much more reduced type of hearing than we thought.”
Haggarty, a suspected Ulster Volunteer Force commander-turned police informer, is facing a record 212 charges covering a 16-year period between 1991 and 2007.
The prosecution case against the 43-year-old north Belfast man runs to 12,000 pages, with his alleged offences including:
:: Five murders, 31 conspiracy to murder and six attempted murders.
:: Four kidnappings, six false imprisonment and five hijacking.
:: Twelve possessing explosives with intent to endanger life and 47 counts of having a firearm with intent.
:: Eighteen charges of wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm.
:: Three counts of arson, conspiracy to defraud and concealing the proceeds of criminal conduct.
:: Two charges each of directing terrorism and belonging to a proscribed organisation.
:: Seven counts of possessing money or property for the purposes of terrorism.
In 2010 Haggarty signed an agreement to become an assisting offender under the terms of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA).
But five years on, he has still not been returned for trial.
Haggarty, whose address is listed as c/o the Police Service of Northern Ireland, is believed to be living at a secret location in England.
He was not present for the latest stage in an ongoing review of the case at Belfast Magistrates’ Court.
His legal representatives are expected to mount an attempt to have some of the charges dropped.
They have broken down the alleged offences into three categories: those considered to have enough evidence to be tried on; others where the strength of the prosecution case is regarded as unclear; and a third group involving potential abuse of process applications.
Ms Doherty told the court on Wednesday progress was being made in preparing the defence.
She suggested: “Might (the case) be put in again for mention in January with a view to fixing a date in March for committal.”
The barrister was unable to indicate how many witnesses will be called at the preliminary enquiry hearing.
District Judge Fiona Bagnall agreed to a further review of the case next month.