The operators of a Melbourne nursing home ravaged by a COVID-19 outbreak have asked to be excused from giving evidence at an inquest, with their lawyer warning of a "dress rehearsal" for future prosecution.
Kon Kontis and Vicky Kos on Wednesday faced the Victorian Coroners Court and formally requested to be excused from testifying on the grounds they may incriminate themselves.
Mr Kontis and Ms Kos were running St Basil's aged care home in July last year when a COVID-19 outbreak led to the deaths of 45 residents.
They have never given an interview or provided a statement to authorities.
State Coroner John Cain said he could provide a certificate that meant nothing they said at the inquest could be used against them unless it was false information.
Mr Kontis and Ms Kos rejected this.
The coroner then opened up their application for discussion, noting he was concerned about gaps in the evidence previously heard at the inquest and he could require the pair to front up.
"We have concluded all the evidence other than the possibility of these two witnesses giving evidence," Judge Cain said.
Representing Mr Kontis and Ms Kos, Ian Hill QC said allowing them to take the stand would be a "dress rehearsal" for subsequent prosecution.
"It exposes them to derivative use of their evidence," Mr Hill said.
"The prejudice to them from forcing them to testify may be very substantial ... It could help construct a case against them even if the evidence itself cannot be used."
Mr Hill added there was a public interest in the presumption of innocence, privilege against self-incrimination, and the right to silence.
Counsel assisting, Peter Rozen QC, in response said there was a "very great public interest" in the inquest being conducted thoroughly with all lines of inquiry examined.
"We submit that their applications ought to be refused," Mr Rozen told the court.
Shifa Shaikh, representing 61 relatives of those who died at St Basil's, agreed.
"The families have been waiting desperately for Ms Kos and Mr Kontis to take the stand," Ms Shaikh said.
"Any delay in that is something that will not be taken well by the families."
Judge Cain said he would decide on the application before Christmas.
Last week Helen Karikas, whose mother Vicky Patsakos died from COVID-19 after living at St Basil's, told the inquest excusing the pair would be a "slap in the face".
"What transpired should never have happened," Ms Karikas said.
"The evidence has demonstrated how many opportunities were missed to prevent this tragedy.
"I'm calling on you now - please do not allow Vicky Kos and Kon Kontis to be excused from giving evidence. If they do not take the stand it will be a final slap in the face for everyone."
St Basil's recorded its first COVID case on July 9, 2020.
Outbreak managers replaced the entire St Basil's staff with an emergency workforce on July 22.
Within hours of the handover, inexperienced nursing staff were struggling to care for the mostly Greek-speaking residents, who had already missed meals and medicine.
Senior doctors warned the afternoon before that replacing regular staff was a "shocking idea" and the plan would turn out to be "a disaster".
The hearing continues on Thursday.