A final decision on whether to prosecute an alleged former IRA commander in connection with the murder of Disappeared victim Jean McConville is to be made in three weeks, a judge has ordered.
The deadline was imposed as Ivor Bell’s lawyer argued that proceedings should be halted because of the delay in advancing the case.
Bell, 78, from Ramoan Gardens in the Andersonstown district of Belfast, was arrested in March last year and charged with paramilitary membership and aiding and abetting the murder of Mrs McConville.
The mother-of-10 was seized by the IRA from her Divis Flats home in west Belfast in 1972, shot dead and then secretly buried.
The case against Bell 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Although transcripts were not to be published until after the deaths of those who took part, last year a US court ordered the tapes should be handed over to PSNI detectives investigating Mrs McConville’s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.
Dresssed in a beige shirt and trousers, and accompanied by family members, Bell appeared before Belfast Magistrates’ Court on Thursday for a progress report.
A prosecution lawyer told District Judge George Conner he was seeking a final three-week adjournment.
He said the time was need to consider advice from senior counsel in the case.
But Mr Bell’s solicitor claimed the ongoing delay was unacceptable.
Peter Corrigan said: “We are nearly 14 months before there’s even such a decision (to continue to prosecute).”
Claiming issues about senior counsel examining the papers were nothing more than a “ploy”, he added: “This case should be discontinued.
“We object strongly to another three weeks. It’s only feeding into the delay.”
However, Judge Conner agreed to adjourn the case until next month.
He stressed: “A final decision should be made by June 4.
“If that decision is to prosecute I expect to have a PE (preliminary enquiry) date within a reasonable time.”