Campaigners fear that appending the bill to efforts to regulate the press will doom reform

A UK government bill to reform 170-year-old libel laws in England and Wales is under threat after becoming mixed up in a row over efforts to regulate the press. Last year, the defamation bill was unveiled in response to a three-year campaign by lobbying groups such as Sense about Science and individuals such as science writer Simon Singh, who fell foul of the libel laws. Supporters say the updated legislation will prevent scientists acting in the public interest being silenced by libel cases, as anyone attempting to sue for libel will have to prove severe financial or reputational damage.

But the bill is now under threat due to last-minute amendments introduced in the House of Lords. The changes incorporate press regulations proposed by the Leveson report, and the government is strongly opposed to these regulations becoming law. Unless the bill goes back before the House of Commons for further discussion by mid-March, campaigners fear it is in danger of being dropped altogether.