Boston College project: Ruling over Dolours Price tapes
A High Court judge has granted a temporary injunction to stop police taking possession of interviews with a former IRA bomber.
Mr Justice Treacy restrained the PSNI from receiving tape recordings carried out with Dolours Price for a history project at Boston College in the US.
The order will remain in place until a legal challenge by one of the researchers, Anthony McIntyre.
It is to get under way in Belfast next Wednesday.
Mr McIntyre, a former IRA man turned writer, is seeking to judicially review the police over moves to gain the material for their investigation into the 1972 abduction and murder of Jean McConville - one of the so-called Disappeared.
His lawyers argued that disclosing the transcripts will put his life at risk.
Loyalist and republican paramilitaries gave interviews to Mr McIntyre and journalist Ed Moloney for the college's Belfast Project, an examination of the conflict in Northern Ireland.
Those who took part included Price, who was jailed for her part in a bomb attack on the Old Bailey in London in 1973 which injured more than 200 people.
Recordings were carried out on the understanding that they would only be made public once interviewees had died.
In July, a US appeal court ruled that the Boston College interviews should be handed over to the PSNI.
Although a further bid to challenge that decision in the Supreme Court is planned, that was described today as "a long shot".
With the expiry of a seven-day stay on supplying the material to police, counsel for Mr McIntyre argued it was journalistic or academic work which should not be disclosed.'Code of silence'
David Scoffield QC said: "The PSNI seeing or receiving this material is going to be putting the applicant's life at risk."
During the hearing the judge questioned claims that handing the interviews to police would expose the researcher to increased risk because of a breach to "the strict code of silence of the IRA".
He commented: "Material was provided on a voluntary basis by people who apparently were members of the IRA and subject to a code of secrecy who nonetheless apparently gave accounts of their involvement to people in America under assurances of confidentiality which they must have known, or should have known, is not something they could give.
"Ultimately a court will determine whether it should yield to public interest."
He pointed out that a book by Mr Moloney based on the same research project has already been published.
Voices From The Grave features interviews with former republican Brendan Hughes and loyalist David Ervine.
"It was the journalists themselves who used the material to publish a book," Mr Justice Treacy said.
The judge also questioned whether the legal moves in Northern Ireland were an attempt to "circumvent" the rulings on challenges in the United States.
"It seems a bit rich, having taken that step, then coming to this court having failed in America, to seek to restrict the police access to this material in discharging their obligation to investigate serious crime."
But Mr Scoffield contended that the PSNI had failed to take into account his client's right to life under European law.
He stressed that he was only seeking a short restraining order until the merits of his judicial review application can be assessed.
Opposing the move on behalf of the PSNI, barrister Peter Coll argued that the legal challenge in America had already delayed police investigations by nearly two years.
"They are engaged in an active, live criminal investigation into the kidnapping, murder and other offences involving what has been described as the Disappeared, including Jean McConville," he said.
Mr Coll also took issue with the so-called code of silence surrounding the IRA.'Open season'
He told the court: "The applicant knew the purpose from his own prospective, that this oral history would be taken and, upon the death of the participants to this history, it would be open season in respect of the releasing of this material.
"We say it is somewhat incongruous for the applicant to say he now takes the view that his Article 2 rights (to life) have been infringed."
However, Mr Justice Treacy agreed to grant the interim order sought, citing the human rights aspect and limited period involved.
He stressed: "There is no question whatsoever of this being an injunction directed towards any American authorities.
"The interim relief is directed solely at the PSNI and any other relevant UK authorities."