The British Government may be trying to "run down the clock" until a public inquiry into the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane becomes pointless, the High Court heard on Friday.
Counsel for his widow, Geraldine Finucane, claimed the continued delay in acting on a finding that his death has never been properly investigated is an unlawful breach of her human rights.
The judge in her legal challenge also voiced his own increasing sense of "unease" at the State's response.
Mr Finucane, 39, was shot dead by loyalist paramilitaries in front of his wife and three children at their north Belfast home in February 1989.
His family have campaigned ever since for a public inquiry to establish the full scale of security force collusion in the assassination.
In February last year the Supreme Court held that previous probes into the murder did not meet human rights standards.
Mrs Finucane is judicially reviewing the Secretary of State for failing to take a decision on the investigation required since that ruling.
The delay of 20 months and counting is unexplained and unjustified, it was contended.
Fiona Doherty QC said: "Having been through this process one can see how the family might be sceptical that in fact what is happening here is the Government is buying more time to make a potential public inquiry pointless, or not viable."
Agreeing with an interpretation suggested by Mr Justice McAlinden, she added: "Running down the clock, indeed."
The barrister argued that the Supreme Court findings, together with international calls for a a public inquiry, should have galvanised the authorities into action.
"This Government was faced with the murder of a citizen more than 30 years ago, in which the Government has accepted there was collusion, and which the highest court in the land has accepted there hasn't been an Article 2 (of the European Convention on Human Rights) compliant investigation," she said.
"One would think they ought to be out of the traps very quickly."
Instead, she submitted, the ongoing delay has "heaped insult" on top of injury.
Counsel for Secretary of State Brandon Lewis stressed his continued commitment to complying with the Supreme Court findings "as quickly as possible", but could not provide a timeframe.
According to Mrs Finucane's case, however, the Government cannot rely on new difficulties caused by Covid-19.
In the same period Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann received an independent report on the management of Muckamore Abbey Hospital and ordered a public inquiry.
"In these circumstances the Covid-19 pandemic cannot justify the failure to make a similar decision on a matter which, before the pandemic, was at a far more advanced stage than the Muckamore matter," Ms Doherty submitted.
Adjourning to Monday, Mr Justice McAlinden told her that their exchanges had increased his discontent at the State's response to the Supreme Court declaration of an Article 2 breach on the investigation into Mr Finucane'e death.
He said: "At this stage I leave this court late on Friday afternoon with a deep sense of unease as to the approach that has been adopted by the Secretary of State in relation to ensuring that the continued breach of international and domestic legal obligations is dealt with and addressed in a swift and timely manner."