Prosecutors must exercise their own discretion when deciding which cases to take to court even though national guidelines are in place, the Lord Advocate has told MSPs.

James Wolffe said he has "absolute confidence and trust" in the judgment of procurator fiscal deputes working across Scotland.

He was giving evidence to Holyrood's Justice Committee as it concludes its inquiry into the role of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).

The committee has heard a range of concerns about the service since it began its investigation five months ago, including the workload of prosecutors and whether it is adequately resourced.

Bar associations in Scotland's cities had cited the "leeching away of discretion" for prosecutors as a "serious concern", stating that fiscal deputes may be forced to proceed to trial in cases involving domestic abuse or hate crime because of policy rather than their own professional judgment.

Edinburgh Bar Association described the issue as "the greatest enemy to efficiency and effective management by COPFS''.

The ability of prosecutors to judge for themselves whether evidence is strong enough for a case to proceed is a key component in Scots Law.

Mr Wolffe said: "It has always been the case that fiscals have acted within instructions and guidelines given to them by the Lord Advocate.

"One of the reasons for that is to make sure that there is consistency in the way the prosecution service operates across the country.

"I have absolute trust and confidence in the judgment of those who prosecute on my behalf up and down the country.

"I recognise that there has been a perception of withdrawal of discretion from fiscals.

"The background was a system in which decision-making in relation to individual cases might be significantly affected by the particular views of individual fiscals on issues which one might regard as matters of policy.

"There was an entirely appropriate shift to a much greater commitment to more clarity around the need for national policies in which all prosecutors are expected to operate.

"If it were necessary to do so, I have been sending clear signals that within my policies I expect prosecutors to exercise their judgment. It is the privilege and also the burden and responsibility of being a prosecutor."

Mr Wolffe said COPFS is committed to the recruitment of trainees, telling MSPs that "you can't knit deputes", who are "hugely important in my mind for the long-term health of the service".

But he also acknowledged issues with morale and staff absence.

Recent figures showed the number of sick days taken by COPFS staff has increased by a fifth over the past three years.

"We recognise that in the sickness statistics for example that there is an issue that needs to be addressed," Mr Wolffe said.