Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Ivor Bell, arrested and charged in March of 2014 for allegedly aiding and abetting in the 1972 murder of the Belfast widow Jean McConville, has bounced off the surface of the justice system ever since. After a long series of inconclusive court appearances in which prosecutors asked for more time to think about the charges, a Belfast judge finally gave the Public Prosecution Service of Northern Ireland an ultimatum this year: Make a decision or give it up. So we had many versions of this news story in early June of this year, after the PPS told the court they had definitely for sure decided to proceed:
"Ivor Bell to be prosecuted over Jean McConville murder."
That decision, the Irish Times wrote, "has ended mounting uncertainty over the case."
It surely hasn't. After the June 4 "decision," Bell was ordered to return to court on July 16 so the judge and the lawyers on both sides could figure out a date to begin a preliminary inquiry in the case. Today is July 21. You wouldn't know it from the newspapers in Ireland or the UK, but Bell did return to court on July 16 -- where no date was set for a preliminary inquiry. Instead, the PPS asked for another delay in the case.
The prosecutor assigned to prosecute Bell, they explained, is on maternity leave. And the other prosecutor assigned to the case in her absence hasn't had time to read the case files, yet.
For about the fifty thousandth time, I'll say that you can really feel the urgency, here. The criminal justice system in Northern Ireland will not rest until Jean McConville's killers are brought to justi- okay, wait, another prosecutor just went to the bathroom. Try again in October, your honor? Or we could, I don't know, pencil something in for 2020? That year is looking pretty solid for us.
In theory, the case is back in court in two weeks. Now taking bets on how many times the PPS can say they aren't ready before a judge is willing to mercifully put their case out of its misery. The dog continues to eat our homework, your honor.
I asked the PPS press office for comment, and will update if they respond. But they may need some extra time to think about it, for sure.