Lawyers for a veteran republican charged in connection with the killing of Disappeared victim Jean McConville believe he may not have a case to answer, a court heard on Thursday.
A judge was told Ivor Bell’s defence team could now mount a bid to have the prosecution thrown out before it reaches trial.
Bell, 78, faces charges of aiding and abetting Mrs McConville’s murder, and membership of the IRA.
The victim, a mother of ten, was seized by the IRA from her Divis Flats home in west Belfast in 1972 after being wrongly accused of being an informer.
Following her abduction she was shot dead and then secretly buried.
Her body was discovered on a Co Louth beach in 2003.
Bell, from Ramoan Gardens in the Andersonstown district of west Belfast, was arrested and charged in March last year.
The case against him centres on an interview he allegedly gave to US researchers from Boston College who interviewed several former paramilitaries about their roles in the Northern Ireland conflict.
Although transcripts were not to be published until after the deaths of those who took part, a US court ordered the tapes should be handed over to PSNI detectives investigating Mrs McConville’s killing.
It is alleged that Bell is one of the Boston interviewees, given the title Z, who spoke about the circumstances surrounding the decision to abduct her.
A voice analyst has been enlisted as part of the case.
The accused - who is currently on bail - denies any role in events surrounding the murder, claiming he was not even in the city at the time.
He attended Belfast Magistrates’ Court today for a scheduled Preliminary Enquiry (PE) hearing to establish if he should be returned for trial.
Some of Mrs McConville’s children were also present in the public gallery.
They heard defence solicitor Peter Corrigan request an adjournment for time to confirm his client’s attitude in the case.
With prosecution documents having now been served on the defence, Mr Corrigan told the court: “The preliminary view from reading the papers is there isn’t a case to answer.”
He added that an alternative Preliminary Inquiry (PI) was more likely to decide if Bell should be committed to the Crown Court.
Under a PI witnesses can be called to testify as part of a process to test the strength of the evidence against a defendant.
District Judge Eamonn King agreed to put the case back for four weeks.
He said: “That’s for mention only. I have a PE/PI question mark.